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Article | Non-daily, low-rate daily and high-rate daily smoking in young adults: A 17 year follow-up

Young people who have a cigarette occasionally—even just at weekends— have almost four times the odds of becoming a daily smoker by their late 30s compared to non-smokers, according to this University of Otago research. The finding emerges from the renowned Dunedin Study, which has followed the health and development of around 1,000 people born in Dunedin in 1972-73.



While overall tobacco consumption is declining in many countries, patterns of low-frequency smoking – such as non-daily and low-rate daily smoking – appear to be increasing. We aimed firstly to describe differences in demographic, smoking- and quitting-related characteristics between non-daily and daily smokers in young adults; secondly, to determine the proportion of low-frequency smokers who transition to a higher rate of smoking by age 38, and factors associated with this.


We assessed a cohort of individuals born in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1972-73, at regular intervals from age 21 to age 38 years. Smokers were categorised as either non-daily, low-rate daily (i.e. defined as 5 or less cigarettes per day) or high-rate daily smokers (6 or more cigarettes per day). Descriptive statistics, linear and logistic regression were used.


Non-daily smokers at age 21 tended to self-identify as non-smokers. Both non-daily smokers and low-rate daily smokers reported higher readiness and confidence in quitting compared to high-rate daily smokers. Around 33% of the age 21 low-rate daily smokers reported smoking daily at age 38, compared to 13% of the non-daily smokers and 4% of the non-smokers. Non-daily smoking at age 21 was associated with increased odds of being a daily smoker by age 38 (OR: 3.6; 95% CI: 1.7-7.8) compared to non-smokers.


Different patterns of smoking are associated with differences in readiness to quit and confidence in quitting ability. For a considerable proportion of smokers, low-frequency smoking in young adulthood develops into daily smoking by adulthood.


Robertson, L., Iosua, E., McGee, R., Hancox, R. (2015) Non-daily, low-rate daily and high-rate daily smoking in young adults: A 17 year follow-up. Nicotine & Tobacco Research doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntv167

To view the article in Nicotine and Tobacco Research please read here. (password required for non-subscribers)

The associated media release can be viewed here.

For further information please contact:

Lindsay Robertson
University of Otago

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