Helping someone to quit smoking

Talking to someone who is stopping smoking

People who are trying to stop smoking need support. But it can be difficult to know what to say to someone who is trying to stop for fear of ‘getting it wrong’. Sometimes people who smoke can be defensive about their smoking because it has been such an important part of their lives and they may even feel it has helped them from time to time. A person’s relationship with cigarettes can be quite complicated.

Speak plainly

It is a good idea to speak plainly with the person who is stopping smoking and ask them what they need rather than guessing. Ask them how they would like to be supported. Perhaps ask them whether they want to be asked regularly about how they are going or would prefer not to be pestered about it. Keep in mind that they may change their mind over the course of their quitting journey and that is ok.

Be positive

Be encouraging and let the person quitting know that you believe in them. Remind them that any time spent not smoking is good for their health and every attempt at stopping smoking is arming them with more knowledge about quitting that they can use in the future. Even if the person returns to smoking, they haven’t failed – stopping smoking for any length of time is a great achievement.

Learn about quitting smoking

If you have never smoked and don’t fully understand tobacco dependence, read up on it so you have a better idea of what the person quitting is going through. Then when you talk to them, you will have knowledge of cravings and withdrawal feelings and symptoms and will be able to communicate an appreciation of how difficult quitting can be for some people.

Let them quit smoking their own way

If you have previously smoked yourself, don’t assume that what worked for you will work for the person trying to stop smoking. While it can be valuable to share your experience, try to avoid claiming your approach is the best way. It is best to simply ask how you can support them with their quitting plan. Keep in mind that the person has probably tried quitting previously so has built up their own experience about what it takes to quit.

Practical ways to help

There are plenty of practical ways to support someone who is stopping smoking and being supportive in these ways helps to show someone just how much you care about them. Here are some ideas:

  • Keep ‘craving busters’ on hand for the person trying to quit. These might include chopped up fresh fruit and vegetables, a jug of water or toothpicks to chew on.
  • Encourage the person quitting to get out and about with you, doing healthy activities such as going on a hike, taking the dog for a walk or going for a bike ride, to distract them from their cravings and feelings of withdrawal.
  • If the person has decided to take up exercise, offer to join them to keep them motivated.
  • Suggest catching up in non-smoking venues such as a restaurant or a cinema.
How to talk to someone who has had a ‘couple of smokes’

It is completely normal for someone to have a cigarette or even a few while they are trying to stop smoking. A couple of ‘sneaky smokes’ isn’t something to be ashamed of. Commend the person quitting for how many days they went without a cigarette and remind them that any break from smoking is good for their health. Encourage them to focus on the future and what they will do differently to prevent them getting into the same situation. Remind the person of supports such as Quitline (13 7848). Quitline counsellors can help people to manage their triggers and cues to smoke and can help the person to stay on track. You could also encourage them to speak to their doctor or pharmacist, as they may not be using their stop smoking medications in the right way, or at the right dose.

What to do when someone goes back to smoking

Remind the person who smokes that the majority of people who stop smoking try to quit many times before succeeding. Every attempt to stop is an opportunity for learning and gives the person’s body a break from tobacco. Next time they will be armed with knowledge gained from their previous quit attempt. They will get better and better at quitting smoking each time they have a go. Let the person who smokes know how proud you are of them for giving quitting a go and that you will be there for them next time and for however many times it takes. Remind the person that the Quitline (13 7848) and their doctor can offer support when they are ready to try quitting again.

Talking to someone about their smoking

It is reasonable to want someone in your life to stop smoking. You may be concerned for their health, or the health of others in their household including yourself, children and pets who are breathing in second-hand smoke and being exposed to third-hand smoke (the chemical residue from cigarette smoke left on surfaces). You may simply be tired of the smell of cigarette smoke or annoyed that your loved one is constantly disappearing to have a smoke. But the decision to quit smoking is not yours to make and that may feel frustrating.

You might want to have a conversation with the person to explain your concerns about their smoking and the reasons why you would like them to quit smoking. In this conversation, perhaps acknowledge that you know how hard it is to quit smoking. Try to present your concerns plainly and simply without lecturing or preaching. Don’t get into an argument with them about their smoking. This is likely to make the person defensive and less willing to accept your point of view.

Remember that the person probably knows all the reasons for quitting smoking already – you may not be telling them anything they don’t already know. Be patient. They need to be ready and motivated to make a quit attempt. The best thing you can do, if they aren’t ready to give up the smokes, is be there for them and show them that you care about them. If you are feeling anxiety or frustration because of someone’s smoking, seek support and advice from your doctor or the Quitline (13 7848).


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