Very low rate and light smokers: smoking patterns and cessation-related behaviour in England, 2006–11

Kotz D, Fidler J, West R

Addiction. 2011 Nov 30. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2011.03739.x. [Epub ahead of print]

Aims  There is a growing interest in very low rate [fewer than one cigarette per day (CPD)] and light (one to nine CPD) smokers and in some parts of the world their numbers appear to be increasing. This paper examined changes in prevalence over the past 5 years, cessation patterns, and smoking and demographic characteristics of very low rate, light and moderate-to-heavy (10+ CPD) smokers in England.

Design  Cross-sectional and longitudinal data from aggregated monthly waves of a household survey: the Smoking Toolkit Study.

Setting  England.

Participants  A total of 23 245 smokers interviewed between November 2006 and May 2011 and 4147 who provided data at 6-month follow-up.

Measurements  We compared the demographic and smoking characteristics between the three groups of smokers at baseline, and the rate of attempts to quit, use of aids to cessation and success of quit attempts at follow-up.

Findings  Very low rate smoking remained extremely rare (1.9% of smokers in 2006 to 2.8% in 2011), but light smoking became increasingly common (23.9–32.8%). Compared with moderate-to-heavy smokers, very low rate and light smokers were younger, more often female and from a higher socio-economic background. They were more motivated to quit and enjoyed smoking less. During the 6-month follow-up period, light smokers, but not very low rate smokers, were more likely to attempt to quit than moderate-to-heavy smokers. When they tried to quit, very low rate and light smokers used aids to cessation less than moderate-to-heavy smokers but still used them to a substantial degree: 18%, 31% and 44% used over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy in their most recent quit attempt for the three types of smoker, respectively. Even very low rate smokers had a substantial failure rate: 65% failed in their most recent quit attempt within 6 months.

Conclusions  Very low rate (fewer than one cigarette per day) and light (one to nine cigarettes per day) smokers in England are at least as motivated to quit as heavier smokers. Although they use cessation medication less than heavier smokers and are more likely to succeed, they still use such medication and fail in quit attempts to a substantial degree.

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