The best way to avoid a smoking addiction is to not experiment with cigarettes in the first place, according to new research by British scientists.
A recent large-scale analysis of a batch of smoking surveys revealed that more than two thirds of people from the developed nations surveyed went on to become daily smokers if they tried a cigarette.
Researchers from Queen Mary University of London and the University of Glasgow found that there is a strong correlation between experimenting with cigarettes and becoming a regular smoker, rather than sticking to occasional smoking.
They looked at eight surveys conducted after 2000, with questions regarding trying a cigarette and smoking daily. The total amount of respondents was 216,314. Three of the surveys were conducted in the US between 2001 and 2013, another three in the UK between 2010 and 2014, one in Australia in 2013 and another in New Zealand in 2009.
The latest research, published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research, sought to identify the proportion of smokers' "conversion rate" - how many people start smoking daily after trying cigarettes once.
The researchers found that at least 3 out of 5 respondents (60.3%) had tried a cigarette at some point, and of these people 68.9% went on to smoke daily for some time. The researchers note that "different surveys used different methodologies and yielded different results, so the estimated 68.9% 'conversion rate' from experimentation to daily smoking has a margin of error (between 60.9 and 76.9%)."
The dramatic shift from one-time smoking to a daily habit added to the evidence of the dangers of cigarette addiction, and the researchers believe their information could help in creating guidelines to prevent teens from even trying out cigarettes for fun.
"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 lead researcher Professor Peter Hajek from Queen Mary University.
However, Professor Hajek but refutes a link between daily smoking and vaping. "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."
While all surveys point to the fact that trying cigarettes once is highly likely to lead to daily smoking, there exist some variations from one survey to the next.
The research team also noted that it's possible current smokers were less likely to take part in this survey than non or past smokers: A great part of the homeless population smokes and people with mental health problems, who are less likely to answer surveys. It's also possible that smokers in developed country - where cigarettes have an increasing stigma - would not be eager to speak about their smoking habits to surveyors.