Being Well

Helping a Smoker Quit: The Do’s and Don’ts

Use these tips for helping a smoker quit to make this difficult time as smooth as possible.

You might have heard it already from anyone you know who used to smoke — quitting was the hardest thing he or she has ever done. But even though it’s a difficult process, millions of former smokers have already given up cigarettes to live healthier lives. Many do it with the encouragement and support of their friends and family.

If you’re thinking of helping a smoker quit, there are some things you should keep in mind. It’s hard to stop smoking because nicotine, which is in all cigarettes, is very addictive. According to the American Heart Society, nicotine has been shown to boost your mood and lower stress levels. These effects are only temporary, so smokers have to keep coming back for more. Still, even though quitting involves breaking an addiction to nicotine, smokers who feel supported are more likely to quit for good.

What Should You Avoid?

Even with the best intentions, there are several things you shouldn’t do if you’re helping a smoker quit:

  • Keep in mind that nobody likes a nag. It’s not going to help the situation if you judge, scold or preach at the person who’s trying to quit.
  • Don’t give in to the negativity. Nicotine withdrawal is going to cause your friend to be irritable, at least at first, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. She could have trouble sleeping and thinking clearly, or may feel restless or depressed. But these symptoms won’t last forever, so it’s important to continue to be supportive of the person through the quitting phase. Usually, withdrawal symptoms go away within a few weeks.
  • Don’t doubt their ability to quit — even if they slip up and have a cigarette. A slip doesn’t mean someone will automatically go back to smoking like before, and if you don’t have faith in their quitting ability, it can make it hard for smokers to trust themselves enough to stop. The most important thing is to keep showing your support by asking how you can help.

What Should You Do?

When you’re helping a smoker quit, it’s important to remember that, ultimately, the person who smokes is in charge. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Be open-minded. People who are quitting are making a huge lifestyle change; it’s important to be respectful of the challenges and accept that they need to quit their own way.
  • Set expectations and guidelines. It’s OK to ask the quitter how he’s doing, how he’s feeling and whether he’d like you to check in regularly with him to see how it’s going. Also, let your quitter know that it’s OK to talk to you about quitting or whenever he needs some encouragement.
  • Offer distractions. Quitting smoking is a hard process. It can be helpful to spend time doing things to help distract the quitter from thoughts of smoking, like going to a movie or taking a walk.
  • Make your home smoke-free. This means removing any lighters, ashtrays and clothing or other fabrics that smell like smoke. Remind the quitter that she can’t smoke in your home with notes on doors and appliances.

Also, be sure to celebrate any small victories along the way, like going a week without a cigarette. This is a huge accomplishment that shouldn’t be ignored!

Quitting smoking is tough, but the support and encouragement you provide can make the difference in a person’s ability to stop smoking. It’s totally possible to put down cigarettes for good. You can help your loved one by showing your support, encouraging him or her to talk and checking in to see how it’s going.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. UVA Cancer Center offers comprehensive lung cancer screenings for those at risk.

Learn More
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN