Quitting smoking: Helping someone quit

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Quitting smoking: Helping someone quit


Your partner or friend has decided it's time to quit smoking.

This is great news. You're excited, and you want to help. But you don't want your partner or friend to feel that you're coming on too strong or that you're "checking up" on him or her.

This Actionset will give you tips on helping someone who is trying to quit smoking. The information also applies to other tobacco products, such as chew or snuff.

Key points

  • You can help someone quit smoking by offering support and practical tips.
  • Only the smoker can follow through with the decision to quit. It's his or her choice and challenge. You can help by giving the person support.
  • Most smokers don't succeed the first time they try to quit. This is called relapse. If the person begins smoking again, don't be disappointed or make the person feel guilty. Instead, help him or her think about trying to quit again.
  • You can help yourself understand what the person is going through by learning about smoking, nicotine addiction, and how hard it is to stop.

Understanding some basic facts about smoking can make it easier for you to understand what quitting is like. This may make it easier to help the person.

The smoker is in charge. Only the smoker can make the decision to quit and to follow through and quit successfully. It's this person's choice and challenge, not yours. You are not responsible if the person doesn't succeed.

Most smokers have to try many times before they quit for good. If the person starts to smoke again, accept it. Don't show disappointment or make the person feel guilty. Tell the person that when he or she is ready to try again, you'll be willing to help again.

Knowing why smokers relapse may help you help the person avoid a relapse. People often start to smoke again when they:

  • Have symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
  • Feel stressed or depressed because of problems in their lives.
  • Miss the pleasure of smoking during good times in their lives, such as smoking at parties.
  • Have easy access to cigarettes.
  • Drink alcohol.

Test Your Knowledge

Most smokers don't succeed the first time they try to quit.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Most smokers need several tries before they quit for good. If your friend relapses, don't show disappointment or make him or her feel guilty.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Most smokers need several tries before they quit for good. If your friend relapses, don't show disappointment or make him or her feel guilty.


Continue to Why?


If you have ever been a smoker, you know how hard quitting can be. If you don't smoke, it can be hard to understand why people smoke and how tough it is to quit.

So why do people have such a hard time quitting?

Cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive. Nicotine changes the brain so you want more of it. If you stop smoking and stop getting nicotine, your body fights back by making you feel bad. This is known as nicotine withdrawal. For some people, nicotine is as hard to quit as heroin or cocaine.

But there's more to smoking than nicotine. People smoke for many reasons, and these reasons also make it hard for them to quit. Smoking may:

These reasons seem very good to smokers. Without cigarettes, they may feel that something is missing in their lives. They may feel that they can't cope without smoking.

Imagine how hard it would be for you to give up a habit that you enjoy or that you think helps you in some way. What would you use as your replacement? How would you cope?

The combination of nicotine addiction and reasons to smoke make it very hard to quit.

Test Your Knowledge

It's hard to stop smoking because:

  • Nicotine is addictive.
    This answer is correct.

    Both a and b are correct. Nicotine is addictive, and the withdrawal symptoms make it hard to stop using nicotine.

  • The reasons that people smoke are important to them.
    This answer is correct.

    Both a and b are correct. The reasons that people have for smoking are important to them. Without cigarettes, people may feel that something is missing from their lives or that they may not be able to cope.


Continue to How?


Family and friends are an important source of support and motivation for a person who is trying to quit smoking.

Before offering help, ask if it's okay to help, and then ask what you can do. Don't assume that the person wants your help or that you know the best way to help.

If a person asks for your support, there are many things you may be able to do.

Share your smoking history

It is important to the person trying to quit to know whether you smoke, are an ex-smoker, or have never smoked.

  • If you have never smoked: Tell the person that you know smoking is an addiction and that it can be very tough to quit. If you know people who have quit, tell their quit stories. Don't make the person feel guilty.
  • If you are an ex-smoker: Tell the person, but don't brag about it. Say that you know it's tough, and if you had to try many times before you quit, say so. Talk to the person about how quitting changed your health and sense of well-being. Talk about how you got through times when you wanted to smoke again.
  • If you are a current smoker: Say so. Let the person know if you have tried to quit and failed. Tell the person that you believe he or she can quit, and pledge not to smoke around him or her or leave cigarettes or smoking supplies around. If you live with the person who is trying to quit, agree to smoke outside the house or apartment, or limit your smoking to one room. Better yet, agree to quit with the person.

Give support

  • Give the person support. Let the person know that you're willing to talk or visit anytime he or she wants you to. When the person meets a quit-smoking goal, congratulate him or her. Treat him or her to a movie, or give a small gift.
  • Ask the person if you can check to see how he or she is doing.
  • Many smokers like to have something in their mouths. Keep a supply of hard candy, cut-up vegetables, or toothpicks in your home to offer to the person.
  • Ignore grouchy moods. No matter how grouchy a person gets, continue to support him or her. If you don't offer support, the person may use your lack of care as an excuse to smoke again.
  • Tell the person about the good changes you see. For example, tell the person that he or she is not as short of breath.
  • Don't check up on the smoker, such as looking for ashtrays or sniffing for smoke.

Help with avoiding triggers

Smokers usually have triggers, which are things that make them want to smoke. You can help a smoker avoid these.

  • Ask about the person's triggers, and see if you can help him or her avoid them. For example, if the person always smoked during a coffee break, see if you can call him or her to talk at this time.
  • Do things together, such as going to movies or on walks. Activity may help the person think less about smoking and decrease nicotine cravings.
  • Alcohol is often a trigger. If possible, keep the person away from places where alcohol is used.
  • Help out with daily tasks, such as shopping or cooking. This could help relieve stress, which is a major trigger for smoking.

Help someone who relapses

Most people need more than one try to stop smoking. If the person slips up, let him or her know that it's okay and that you still care.

  • Give the person credit for whatever length of time (days, weeks, or months) that he or she didn't smoke.
  • See what you both learned from the attempt. Are there any triggers to look out for? Should the person try phone counselling, medicine, or nicotine replacement therapy?
  • When the person smokes again, it may be a one-time slip. Remind your friend about how long he or she had gone without smoking and why he or she wanted to quit in the first place.
  • Tell the person that it was right to try to quit, and urge him or her to try to quit again. Use positive language, such as "when you try again," not "if you try again."

Suggest resources

There are many resources available to help someone quit smoking, and they make quitting more likely. Here are some ideas you can suggest:

  • Join a support group for people who are quitting. People who have quit or are quitting know what quitters go through and can help you.
  • Join a quit-smoking program. The person's doctor may be able to suggest one. You can also find them on the Internet.
  • Use the Internet. The Internet gives you 24-hour access to information about quitting smoking and to chat rooms that can provide support.
  • Get counselling (by telephone, one-on-one, or in a group). The more counselling a person gets, the better his or her chances of quitting. Counselling sessions can also help if the person starts smoking again.

Test Your Knowledge

As soon as you know that your friend has quit smoking, it's a good idea to jump in to help.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    Before you give someone support, ask to make sure that the person wants help, and ask what type of help he or she would like.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    Before you give someone support, ask to make sure that the person wants help, and ask what type of help he or she would like.


Continue to Where?


If you would like more information on quitting smoking, the following resources are available:

Online Resources

Web Address: www.smokefree.gov

This Web site was created by the Tobacco Control Research Branch of the National Cancer Institute with important contributions from other national agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and the American Cancer Society. It offers an online guide to quitting smoking, including online messaging and telephone support from the National Cancer Institute.

Tobacco Cessation Guideline
Office of the Surgeon General
Web Address: www.surgeongeneral.gov/tobacco/default.htm

This Web site provides the U.S. Tobacco Cessation Guidelines and many materials for the consumer who wants to quit smoking.

Tobacco Information and Prevention Source (TIPS)
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Web Address: www.cdc.gov/tobacco

The Tobacco Information and Prevention Source Web site provides access to many government resources for quitting smoking. It is provided by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP).

Quitting smoking can be hard. Here are some tools that you can suggest to someone who is trying to quit:

Click here to view a Decision Point. Should I take medicine to quit smoking?
Click here to view an Actionset.Quitting smoking: Dealing with weight gain
Click here to view an Actionset.Quitting smoking: Getting support
Click here to view an Actionset.Quitting smoking: Preventing slips or relapses

Return to topic:


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer John Hughes, MD - Psychiatry
Specialist Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Last Revised August 31, 2009

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.