At least 3 out of 5 people who try a cigarette become daily smokers, suggests to a study.
The findings from over 215,000 survey respondents provide strong support for prioritising efforts to reduce cigarette experimentation among adolescents.
Lead researcher Professor Peter Hajek from Queen Mary said: "This is the first time that 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, as it implies that a recreational activity is turning into a compulsive need. 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.
Datasets from eight surveys were found from the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand, and the survey methods were found to be on par with best practice.
The team calculated that 60.3 per cent of respondents had said they had ever tried a cigarette, and among those, an estimated 68.9 per cent said they had progressed to daily smoking.
The different 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).
Given the high conversion rate found in all existing surveys, the researchers suggest that at least some of the reduction in smoking prevalence observed over the past 20 years is likely due to reduced experimentation with cigarettes among adolescents.
Professor Peter Hajek added: "Concerns were expressed that e-cigarettes could be as addictive as conventional cigarettes, but this has not been the case. It is striking that very few non-smokers who try e-cigarettes become daily vapers, while such a large proportion on non-smokers who try conventional cigarettes become daily smokers. The presence of nicotine is clearly not the whole story."
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