Just one cigarette can lead to a daily habit in more than two-thirds of people, new research has revealed.
An analysis from the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand found that of the 60% of people who had tried smoking, more than two-thirds (68.9%) progressed to form a daily habit.
‘We’ve found that the conversion rate from first-time smoker to daily smoker is surprisingly high, which helps confirm the importance of preventing cigarette experimentation in the first place,’ said Prof Peter Hajek from Queen Mary University, London and lead researcher in the study.
The study, of more than 200,000 respondents, found that between 50% and 82% had gone on to smoke on a daily basis after trying a single cigarette. The researchers then arrived at the estimated figure of 68.9% through collating the data and further analysis.
Hajek did acknowledge some potential shortcomings of his method, saying: ‘It is possible that somebody who is a lifetime non-smoker did try a cigarette when they were a kid but it didn’t make any impression on them, and they forgot it or don’t see that it is important enough to report.’
But, he added: ‘I think even if you assume there is a recall issue and other things, you are talking about more than a 50% [rate of conversation to daily smoking after first use].’
Prof Hajek said the study was the first large scale investigation into the link between first time and regular use.
The research comes at a time when the UK is seeing a significant reduction in the number of smokers in all age groups. According to data from Public Health England, the number of over-18s who smoke has fallen by 42% since 2000.
‘The UK is seeing a dramatic reduction in smoking at the moment and this tallies with recent findings that only 19% of 11- to 15-year-olds have ever tried a cigarette, so the good news is that we are on the right track,’ added Prof Hajek.
Compared internationally, smoking rates in the UK are relatively low – 13.7% of the population smokes, compared to the EU and OECD average of 18.4%.
Some, however, feel that the government is not doing enough. Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the Action on Smoking and Health charity, has argued for further government regulation of tobacco companies: ‘The government is refusing to introduce licensing for tobacco retailers, even though there is strong support for this both from the public and retailers.’
Steve Brine, a public health minister, said: ‘Britain is a world leader in tobacco control, and thanks to our tough action smoking rates in England are at an all-time low.’