3 out of 5 who try a cigarette 'become smokers'

Joy Montgomery
January 11, 2018

This is the first time a link between trying cigarettes and establishing a smoking habit has been demonstrated with such a large data set, Hajek added.

Researchers collected data from the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand and found that of the 60.3% who had tried smoking, an estimated 68.9% went on to make it a daily habit, the BBC reports. Only 19 per cent from age group 11 to 15 has ever tried a cigarette. "In the development of any addictive behavior, the move from experimentation to daily practice is an important landmark, as it implies that a recreational activity is turning into a compulsive need".

The analysis was based on the answers of 215,000 respondents to eight surveys from 2000 to 2016 kept in the Global Health Data Exchange.

The team found that 60.3% of respondents had said they had ever tried a cigarette, and among those, 68.9% said they had progressed to daily smoking.

The conversion rates (from one cigarette to daily smoking habit) varied quite substantially depending on the survey, the lowest being 50 percent (a United States survey) and the highest being 82 percent (a United Kingdom survey).

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Hajek added that this high "conversion rate" to smoking highlights the importance of preventing people trying cigarettes in the first place and that some of the reduction in terms of numbers of smokers in more recent years is probably aided by fewer teens trying it. The results also didn't show how long these people took up smoking for.

There was also a large discrepancy in results between the surveys, with the conversion rate from trying cigarettes to daily smoker ranging from 50% in one of the USA surveys to 82% in one of the United Kingdom surveys.

This figure might seem high but worldwide smoking rates are on the decline, especially among the young who are now more likely to pick up an e-cig over a traditional cigarette. "The presence of nicotine is clearly not the whole story".

"Tobacco use starts in childhood for two-thirds of smokers in the United Kingdom, and this study suggests that even trying a cigarette becomes regular use in most cases", she said. In 2010 nearly 20% of people smoke in the United Kingdom, and in 2017 that number shrunk to 19.3%.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency told MPs: 'E-cigs will improve public health if they become a route out of smoking for large numbers of adult smokers, without providing a route into smoking for children and non-smokers or generating new health risks.

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