We know cigarettes are extremely addictive, but the science on how quickly nicotine can draw you in has been mixed.
A new study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research suggests it can happen very fast — after just one cigarette.
The researchers from Queen Mary University of London found that roughly 61 percent of people develop a daily habit of smoking after trying their first cigarette.
This percentage was based on 215,000 respondents of eight surveys taken across the U.S., U.K., New Zealand and Australia and compiled in the Global Health Data Exchange.
“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,” said lead researcher Peter Hajek, professor of clinical psychology and director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary University.
“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,” Hajek explained. “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.”
The majority of smokers get their start in their youth: According to the CDC, nine out of ten first tried it by age 18, and 99 percent before the age of 26.
Good news is in both the U.S. and England, the rate of first time smoking among young people is on a decline. In the U.K., only 19 percent of 11 to 15 years olds reported having tried a cigarette, according to 2016 National Health Service, and in the U.S., only eight percent of high school students reported having smoked in the past 30 days.
But let’s be real: Why would a teenager who smokes be honest about it? The best we can do is ramp up education about the dangers of smoking addiction and hope it works as a deterrent.