The pub trade has welcomed the news that underage drinking has dropped to its lowest recorded level and praised the “hard work” of pubs and bars to help stamp out under-age purchases.

Latest data published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre revealed that of the 11 to 15-year-olds who had drunk alcohol in the past month, only 6% had done so in a pub or a bar — a fall from 10% in 1996.

The Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England in 2014 report, which was based on the responses of more than 6,000 pupils, also showed a decline in the number of young people purchasing alcohol from off-licensed premises including shops and supermarkets — 23% bought alcohol this way compared with almost 40% in 1996.

Other findings highlighted that just over a third of 11 to 15-year-olds had tried alcohol at least once, compared with almost two thirds in 1988 when records began. And 8% had consumed alcohol in the week leading up to the survey — a drop of two thirds since its peak in 1996 (25%) — the lowest proportion of young people to drink alcohol since data was first collected.

The trends were described as “encouraging” by industry chiefs, and add to the wider picture of falling levels of binge and harmful drinking. “Pubs and bars take their legal responsibility very seriously and this report lends to the argument that the pub still represents the safest and most secure environment in which to drink,” said Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers.

A survey of PMA readers last year found about six in 10 agreed that fewer underage drinkers were attempting to buy alcohol. Just one fifth said the problem was worse compared with 10 years ago.

Both the British Beer & Pub Association and Wine and Spirit Trade Association praised industry investment in schemes designed to reduce underage drinking and boost young peoples’ knowledge of alcohol. BBPA chief Brigid Simmonds said: “The industry’s investment in Drinkaware, whose campaigns seek to inform and educate both parents and young people, is making an impact on attitudes to the alcohol misuse issue overall.” Miles Beale, WSTA chief executive, said schemes such as Challenge 25 and Community Alcohol Partnerships had “helped to change the British culture around the acceptability of underage drinking”.

However, a note of caution came from Rosanna O’Connor, director of alcohol, drugs and tobacco division at agency Public Health England. While describing the decline as “promising”, she warned that current levels of alcohol harm remained “unacceptably high”.