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

By
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
extinguished cigarette

10th January 2018 – More than two-thirds of people who smoke just 1 cigarette go on to become, at least temporarily, daily smokers, a study suggests.

The research team, led by Queen Mary University of London, says the "striking" figure illustrates the importance of dissuading adolescents from experimenting with tobacco.

Anti-smoking campaigners say the findings lend weight to a campaign to licence tobacco retailers and put cigarettes on a par with alcohol.

Data from the UK and 3 other countries

The findings, published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, are based on a review of 8 health surveys - 3 from the UK, 3 from the US and Canada, and 1 each from Australia and New Zealand. In total, data was available from 216,314 adults.

All the surveys included questions about ever trying a cigarette and any subsequent daily smoking habit.

The researchers calculated that 60.3% of people across the surveys had tried smoking a cigarette at least once. Among those, 68.9% said they had gone on to smoke every day.

They say that as the surveys used different methods, there was quite a wide margin of error and the 'conversion' rate could be anywhere between 60.9% and 76.9%.

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 US surveys to 82% in one of the UK surveys.

Children 'at risk of addiction'

The authors conclude: "The transition from trying the first cigarette through occasional to daily smoking usually implies that a recreational activity is turning into a compulsive need that has to be satisfied virtually continuously."

They add: "The finding supports strongly the current efforts to reduce cigarette experimentation among adolescents."

Two-thirds of smokers in the UK start before the age of 18.

Licencing tobacco retailers

The public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) says the latest study highlights the risks children run of entering into a life of addiction when they experiment with tobacco.

In a statement, chief executive Deborah Arnott says: "Just under half of child smokers say they usually get their cigarettes from shops despite it being illegal to sell cigarettes to children.

"Alcohol can only be sold by licensed shops, while anyone can sell cigarettes, which are far more addictive and lethal. Yet the Government is refusing to introduce licencing for tobacco retailers, even though there is strong support for this both from the public and retailers."

Smoking rates in the UK have been in long-term decline.

In 2016, 15.8% of adults smoked – equivalent to around 7.6 million people. Smoking rates were lowest in England (15.5%) and highest in Northern Ireland (18.1%).

Reviewed on January 10, 2018

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