Nondaily, Low-Rate Daily, and High-Rate Daily Smoking in Young Adults: A 17-Year Follow-Up

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While overall tobacco consumption is declining in many countries, patterns of low-frequency smoking—such as nondaily and low-rate daily smoking—appear to be increasing. We aimed firstly to describe differences in demographic, smoking- and quitting-related characteristics between nondaily 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 1972–1973, at regular intervals from age 21 to age 38 years. Smokers were categorized as either nondaily, low-rate daily (ie, defined as five or less cigarettes per day) or high-rate daily smokers (six or more cigarettes per day). Descriptive statistics, linear and logistic regression were used.


Nondaily smokers at age 21 tended to self-identify as nonsmokers. Both nondaily smokers and low-rate daily smokers reported higher readiness and confidence in quitting compared to high-rate daily smokers. Around 40% of the age 21 low-rate daily smokers reported smoking daily at age 38, compared to 13% of the nondaily smokers and 4% of the nonsmokers. Nondaily smoking at age 21 was associated with increased odds of being a daily smoker by age 38 (OR: 3.6; 95% CI = 1.7% to 7.8%) compared to nonsmokers.


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.


Low-frequency smoking, including nondaily smoking, in early adulthood is a significant risk factor for being a daily smoker in the long-term. Cessation interventions should be tailored to low-frequency smokers, taking into account differences between them and heavier smokers in terms of smoking motivation and quitting-related cognitions.

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