If you're trying to help a friend quit smoking, be aware that nagging and criticizing may be more harmful than helpful. Here's how to be a positive influence.
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Quitting smoking can be extremely challenging even if you're not the one who's trying to stop. In fact, if one of your family members or close friends is trying to stop smoking, it may require quite a bit of patience and understanding from you. But if you really want to help, just be aware that certain behaviors and comments can backfire.
"If you nag or harangue the person trying to quit, you're unlikely to achieve the effect you want," says Erik Augustson, PhD, MPH, a behavioral scientist in the Tobacco Control Research Branch of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.
A general rule is, be positive not negative. For example, don't mention that the person has failed to quit in the past, Augustson says, or tell him or her that you "know how they feel." Unless you're an ex-smoker yourself and you really do know what it's like to fight nicotine addiction, he says, the remark can seem patronizing and even insulting.
Ways to Support Someone Who's Trying to Quit
Social media and smartphone apps which can reach a tobacco user in minutes or even seconds can be very helpful for someone who's trying to quit smoking, says Augustson. Texting someone can be particularly encouraging, he says. If it feels right, send your friend or family member positive, upbeat messages throughout the day, and find out whether other friends and family are willing to join in as well. Or you can support the person by reaching out on social media.
Being specific about dates and plans through texts can help, too. "Text or email the person a message saying it's important to you that they are there for your son's graduation from high school or your daughter's wedding," for example, says Augustson. Another way you can help is to ask permission to upload a Smokefree.gov app or other resource directly onto the person's phone.
If you're unsure of what to say or do, try these ideas:
- Offer to be there. Whether your loved one wants to talk about their withdrawal symptoms or simply needs a willing ear, tell them that they have your support. Just be sure to do what they want not what you want.
- Do things together. If your family member or friend is tempted to light up after dinner, for example, take them for a walk around the block. Some exercise can also diminish cigarette cravings, says Augustson.
- Celebrate successes together. Set a goal like being smoke free for a month or two and decide what you'll do to mark the achievement. Think of something meaningful that recognizes the accomplishment, and go do it together.
- Skip the drinks; alcohol and cigarettes often go hand in hand. Drinking alcoholic beverages can trigger the urge to smoke, according to a 2014 study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research. Also, if everyone around your loved one is drinking, it's harder for him or her to abstain.
- Encourage your loved one to throw out ashtrays and cigarettes. By creating a smoke-free environment, Augustson says, "you're helping them modify their behavior and making it harder [for them] to relapse."
- Be encouraging. Never tell someone that quitting is "too hard." Although nicotine is addicting, it is possible to overcome a dependence. Try telling your loved one that you know they can do it just as they learned to ride a bike as a child or got an A in a tough class once they put their mind to it.
- If your loved one is using medication, remind him or her to take it. Studies have found that medications and nicotine replacement therapies can help people who are trying to quit smoking. You don't want to nag, but you can gently remind them to take their meds for example, by getting them a weekly pill box and stashing it in their bedroom.
Although nearly 70 percent of people who smoke say they want to quit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, others aren't ready to kick the habit. If your loved one who smokes isn't interested in quitting, try pointing out the myriad benefits of quitting smoking: for example, they'll sleep better, breathe easier, and lower their risk of heart disease and cancer.
Most of all, be patient with your loved one's efforts to quit smoking. If they slip, be kind and nonjudgmental. Your support may well be a key factor in helping them quit for good.
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