Reality check: Is one puff of a cigarette enough to get you addicted to smoking?

As of 2016, there are 5.2 million smokers in Canada, Statistics Canada reports. Getty Images

Just one hit off a cigarette is enough to get most people hooked on smoking, a new large study claims.

According to researchers at Queen Mary’s Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine, at least three out of five people who try a cigarette for the first time become daily smokers.

“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,” said Peter Hajek, leader research of the study, in a statement. “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.”

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This study is the first that uses a large data set to show the kind of hold cigarettes have after just a single experience, Hajek said.

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The data set included 215,000 respondents from eight different surveys from the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand from the Global Health Data Exchange.

According to the result, about 60 per cent of respondents said they had tried a cigarette, and among those, almost 67 per cent said they had become a daily smoker.

The different surveys used different methodologies and yielded different results, so researchers estimated the 67 per cent “conversion rate” has a margin of error (between 61 per cent and 77 per cent, roughly).

“Given the high conversation 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 to due reduced experimentation with cigarettes among adolescence,” researchers explain in a press release.

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But is it actually possible to become addicted to cigarettes after just one puff?

Absolutely, says Dr. Smita Pakhale, respirologist at The Ottawa Hospital.

“This is really well-known for those who work in the field – just how addictive tobacco is,” she says. “I call it the ‘King of Addiction’ because it’s the most addictive substance that we know of.”

What makes cigarettes addictive, Pakhale says, is the nicotine. And according to Pakhale, nicotine attaches itself to the receptors on the brain and structurally modifies them. A bio-feedback is then triggered, which is what makes people want more.

In fact, today’s cigarette products deliver more nicotine more quickly than ever before, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says. Additives and chemicals are also added to the mix to make them even more addictive.

According to Statistics Canada, about 16.9 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and older (about 5.2 million people) smoked either daily or occasionally in 2016. That is a slight decline from 17.7 per cent from the year before. Of the 5.2 million smokers, 3.7 million admit to being daily cigarette smokers.

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Smoking was the least common among youth aged 12 to 17 (3.6 per cent), followed by adults 65 and older (9.5 per cent). The age group who smoked the most were men between 20 and 34 years of age – that’s about one in four men.

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People usually begin smoking during their teen years, Statistics Canada says, so the percentage who have not started smoking by the time they’re 20 is an indicator of future smoking rates.

If quitting smoking is on your 2018 to-do list, know that there are five stages to quitting, Health Canada says.

The first is pre-contemplation. If you’re at this stage, you’re not thinking about quitting. This may be because you’re discouraged about previous attempts at quitting or believe you’re too addicted to be able to stop.

The second stage is contemplation. This is when you’re considering quitting sometime in the near future. You consider smoking a problem, so you’re more open to receiving information about smoking and identifying the barriers that prevent you from quitting.

The third stage is preparation. You’ve finally made the decision to quit and you’re getting ready to stop smoking. At this point the cons outweigh the pros so you take small steps towards quitting.

Next is action – actually quitting. This is followed by the fifth step: maintenance.

For more information on what to expect when you quit smoking, visit the Government of Canada website’s health page.


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