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Conversion from 'first time smoker' to 'daily smoker' rate high, study finds

Experimenting with smoking just once could lead to an addiction, researchers have found

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15 January 2018

British researchers have found three out of every five people who try their first cigarette could become daily smokers.

From over 200,000 people surveyed in data sets from separate surveys from the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand, researchers calculated that 60.3 per cent of respondents who said they had tried a cigarette, 68.9 per cent said they had progressed to daily smoking.

Professor Peter Hajek of Queen Mary University of London and lead researcher said this is the first time the remarkable hold that cigarettes can establish after a single experience has been documented from such a large set of data.

"In the development of any addictive behaviour, the move from experimentation to daily practice is an important landmark," Prof Hajek said.

"We've found that the conversation rate from 'first time smoker' to 'daily smoker' is surprisingly high, which helps confirm the importance of preventing cigarette experimentation in the first place."

It was also discovered that only very few non-smokers who try e-cigarettes become daily vapers.

Dr George Stabelos said he would agree these results are in line with what has been observed in terms of behaviour in the population.

"Once you experiment, then that's eventually a ticket of entry to a long-term habit and the evidence is that this habit can be restricted to smoking alone or can extend to other forms of drug use such as other recreational and illicit drugs," said Dr Stabelos.

"Smoking is one of the highest priorities in terms of what we need to do to improve the health of the population."

The anti-smoking efforts implemented in Australia such as plain packaging and smoking bans have thus far had a positive impact, with an increase in people thinking about and making attempts to quit smoking.

The warnings on packaging was also found to "put young people off," the ABC reported.

In Greece however, the smoking rate remains very high for both sexes with males aged 15 and over smoking an average of 21 cigarettes per day and women an average of 17 per day, a World Health Organisation report revealed.

While the health status of the Greek population has generally improved over time, challenges such as cancer mortality and the impact of heart disease remain.

Establishing national cancer screening programs, enforcing the ban on smoking in public places and promoting lifestyle changes geared towards diet and exercise also remain key areas of consideration by the relevant authorities.

Prof Hajek said the results provide compelling reason to continue anti-smoking efforts targeted at adolescents.

The surveys used different methodologies and yielded different results, so the estimated 68.9 per cent 'conversion rate' from experimentation to daily smoking has a margin of error (between 60.9 and 76.9 per cent).

Data were analysed to calculate the conversion rate from ever trying a cigarette to smoking daily.

However the study's limitations include the different results yielded so the conversion rate is approximate. Respondents' memory recall of their smoking history is also an issue that may have affected results.

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