Background: Some smokers maintain a low daily smoking rate and do not appear to be addicted to nicotine (tobacco "chippers"). In a context of increasing social and environmental constraints on cigarette smoking, it is of interest to determine the population prevalence and the characteristics of low-rate smoking behavior.
Methods: A representative population survey was used to determine the prevalence and the correlates of low-rate smoking (five or less cigarettes a day). A range of sociodemographic, contextual, cognitive, and smoking-behavior variables was examined.
Results: Of 697 smokers age 20 years and over who had smoked for more than 2 years, 8.2% smoked five or less cigarettes a day; their average age was 39 years, and half were under 35 years of age; 88% had been smoking for 6 or more years; 86% were in the contemplation or preparation stages of readiness to quit. The significant independent predictors of being a low-rate smoker, compared to smoking at a higher daily rate, were perceiving quitting as not very difficult, smoking the first cigarette of the day more than 30 min after walking, buying packets of 30 or less cigarettes, and having not been advised by a doctor to quit.
Conclusions: There were few differences between low-rate and other smokers on the range of variables that we were able to assess in a population survey. Since there is no safe level of cigarette smoking, medical advice to quit and public-education campaigns could target low-rate smokers specifically. Such initiatives could make significant contributions to reducing overall smoking prevalence.