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7 in 10 people who try a cigarette become daily smokers, study suggests

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by Cancer Research UK | News

10 January 2018

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Cigarette in a person's hand

New UK research has suggested that more than two-thirds of people who try a cigarette become daily smokers at some point in their lives.

Based on survey results from 4 different countries – including the UK – the findings highlight how addictive tobacco cigarettes are, and the importance of ensuring that stop smoking services are made available to help people quit.

“This study suggests that even trying a cigarette becomes regular use in most cases.” Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Reseach UK

Although it’s unclear how long the smokers in the study took up the habit for, lead researcher Professor Peter Hajek, from Queen Mary University of London, said the new figures show how important it is to curb cigarette experimentation.

“We’ve found that the conversion rate from ‘first time smoker’ to ‘daily smoker’ is surprisingly high,” he said.

The scientists used a global database to gather results from 8 surveys spanning the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand. Of the 215,000 people surveyed, 6 in 10 said they had tried smoking.

Researchers found that around 7 in 10 of those who said they’d ever tried a cigarette went on to smoke daily. But they point out that the different surveys produced a range of results, so that figure is only an estimate. The results also didn’t show how long these people took up smoking for.

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, said the work highlights the importance of preventing experimentation in young people.

“Tobacco use starts in childhood for two-thirds of smokers in the UK, and this study suggests that even trying a cigarette becomes regular use in most cases,” she added.

“Fortunately, in the UK, youth smoking rates continue to decline – but we shouldn’t be complacent.”

George Butterworth, from Cancer Research UK, said that one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking in young people is to increase tax on products.

“Young people are particularly price-sensitive, and so are most likely to respond to prices by quitting or not taking up smoking in the first place,” he added.


Birge, M. et al. (2018). What proportion of people who try one cigarette become daily smokers? A meta analysis of representative surveys. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. doi 10.1093/ntr/ntx243