If you feel like you've tried everything to get a loved one to quit smoking, or if you've just started thinking of ways to ask someone to quit, knowing what doesn't work can save you a lot of time and frustration. Smoking causes damage to almost every single organ in the human body, so it can't be good -- ever. And as much as you may hate it, you have to remember that those who smoke might actually love it [source: American Lung Association].
Nicotine and all of the habits that come along with smoking -- holding, inhaling and reaching for cigarettes throughout the day -- are physically and emotionally addictive to smokers. Whether or not you prevent someone you know from being one of the 393,000 or so people who will die from a smoking-related illness in the United States this year should be less about hating smoking and more about loving the smoker [source: American Lung Association]. So if you haven't been able to get the smoker in your life to quit, it's important to keep trying again and again, even if you become a pain in the "wrong-end-of-the-cigarette-to-light." However, there are ways to avoid becoming the enemy and losing the battle to the cigarette. Just remember there are certain ways to go about winning this fight.
Read on for some of the things you do not want to do when you want someone to quit smoking.
Most people who try to quit smoking try more than once [source: American Cancer Society]. Loving someone who's tried repeatedly to quit -- and failed -- might make you want to give in and give up, and often it shows. Letting them know, instead, that you believe they can do it, even if it's the third, fifth or seventh time they're trying, might prevent them from giving up. Avoid phrases like "I give up! You're never going to quit!" because they can feed the smoker's self-doubt about whether quitting is even possible or worth the effort. Instead, use words of encouragement like "I'm not giving up on you." Statements like that might linger and influence your loved one's decision to stay the course.
Giving up on methods that aren't working is a good idea, though. With smoking, it may be the "same approach, different day" or even "different day, different approach," because it's hard to know when something just might click and connect with a smoker's desire to quit. Keep trying and showing concern while you figure out what definitely isn't working or what's driving them to smoke more.
When a smoker sets a date to quit, it can sometimes be effective. But if you try to set that date for them, it can backfire. Demanding someone quit all at once, cold turkey, is one thing, but pushing a smoker to agree to an imposed date likely won't work. When the all-or-nothing date is set by the person who smokes, it's much more likely to succeed and your help in the process will be more welcome because you'll be supporting, rather than pushing, the timetable. Many smokers do go smoke-free for their loved ones, but even then the motivation comes from the individual and not from outside.
And if their goal date comes and goes and they are still smoking or relapse, acknowledge their effort anyway. Although it may seem slow-going and an unachieved objective, calling them a failure takes away from the progress they've already made, which could cause them to ramp back up to smoking just as much as before. Showing a great deal of disappointment when smoking continues, especially if they are smoking less, only reinforces any thoughts they may have that they can't succeed at quitting.
There are a couple of expressions that go around addiction treatment circles, whether for drugs, tobacco or food. One is "there's nothing worse than a recovered addict" and the other is "someone who's never been an addict can't understand." Whether you have been a smoker or have never smoked, you might come off as judgmental or unable to relate if you use a condescending tone.
If you're a former smoker, you've been there and can relate to the need and desire to smoke. You've had the same weakness and enjoyment from cigarettes and are fortunate to be free from the addiction, and successfully overcoming something like an addiction is worth all kinds of praise and re-enforcement. But what works for one person won't necessarily work for another, so keep in mind what you say can sound critical and condescending sometimes. Just don't forget how hard it was to quit.
On the other hand, a person who has never smoked still has some other human weaknesses, so coming from a position of "righteousness" might snowball into finger-pointing and steer away from the real object of scorn: cigarettes.
Depending on who you ask, anger can make people want something more or less. A 2010 study in Psychological Science found that flashing pictures of angry faces before showing people images of objects made them want the object more than when they viewed happy or expressionless faces [source: APS]. Other studies have shown that anger motivates people to act productively [source: TIME]. Applying either approach to helping someone quit smoking however, probably has a lot to do with an individual's personality. Shouting at someone in red-faced anger and then holding up a pack of cigarettes probably won't make them quit. In fact, it might just inspire them to light up.
Using anger to try and influence someone to quit smoking might be a lot less about the person who's smoking and more about your own anger. If personal feelings against smoking are so strong that you can't talk about it without raising your voice, hostility can get in the way of lovingly influencing and supporting someone to try quitting.
Many smokers already have a fear, whether it's expressed or not, that they can't stop smoking, or that they don't even want to quit. Others believe they can stop at any time but find out they really can't when they try. Some smokers feel certain that they'll suffer from some kind of smoking-related illness, and even those smokers who think they won't get sick have likely considered illness at some point. Being a smoker can already carry these fears, so constantly talking about things like lung disease, cancer and emphysema might be counterproductive.
Using fear to keep children from smoking often includes public service announcements with graphic photos of diseased lungs or assembly speakers talking about painful cancer treatments or shortened life spans. By adulthood most people have seen countless images and heard stories of the health risks of smoking, yet they still smoke. Lectures or well-researched presentations on the harms of smoking also can raise some ire. Smokers most likely are very aware of the dangers of smoking, and spouting facts can come off as being condescending.
If you want to take the fear approach, sharing your own fears of losing the person you love may be more effective.
Rhetorical questions like "do you know how bad this is?" are not very constructive. People know how bad smoking is and what the consequences are, so harping on them is mostly redundant. Maybe it's just human nature to repeat, state the obvious and want agreement even in the bad things -- especially when a point doesn't seem to be getting through.
Another reality is that the negatives for a nonsmoker are probably not as negative to someone who smokes. Sense of smell is masked a lot when a person is smoking, so telling someone over and again how bad it smells isn't likely that effective because to many smokers, the smell of cigarettes is familiar and comforting. Most people who once smoked notice a drastic change in how bad cigarette smoke smells after they quit, but while smoking, the odor is not much of a reason to quit [source: NIH].
Constantly harping on the financial costs of smoking also does no good. Cigarette prices and taxes have steadily risen, but one out of every three people in the world still smokes [source: World Bank]. So is all of that harping about money effective? Gauge the expressions on your loved one's face next time and consider a positive turn of phrase -- some things to be gained in quitting -- instead.
Addiction already is a form of lost self-control, even if it's thought of as a personal choice to smoke, so if you try to do too much to force the smoker's hand into quitting you might be seen as a controller. This can lead your loved one into closing off communication on the subject or can cause them to do things like sneak in more cigarettes out of your sight.
Some over-controlling acts might include making an appointment for a smoker before he or she has decided to try quitting. Not only will many health professionals refuse the appointment unless the smoker initiates it, but chances are the smoker also will be resistant, defensive or resentful. Let the person who's controlled by nicotine have control over when it's time to get professional help or to choose a program, and then the ongoing support of friends and family may be more welcome.
And forcing the issue of smoking with an ultimatum, for example telling a romantic partner you'll end the relationship if he or she doesn't quit smoking, not only has the potential to come off as a threat, but it also can become meaningless if it's a repeated threat that's never followed through.
Secondhand smoke causes about 50,000 deaths in the United States each year, and if you live with someone who smokes around you and other family members, they are increasing your chances of getting sick [source: American Lung Association]. That is because secondhand smoke contains the same toxins that a smoker inhales. But using this fact to guilt someone into quitting smoking has not been proven effective. It may influence someone to smoke outside, but guilt alone can actually de-motivate and lead to feelings of self-defeat [source: McKinley]. Chances are, many smokers already feel guilty knowing their habit is also affecting the health of those around them.
Bringing up the past is also fruitless and de-motivating. Rehashing previous failed attempts at quitting does nothing more than revisit things that can't be changed. Instead, acknowledging how far they've come and how hard it is to quit will show them more empathy than guilt [source: American Lung Association].
Husbands and wives, parents and kids, and friends do it, and it's often joked about or considered endearing, but nagging can take a toll. By definition, to nag is to find fault incessantly, or be a persistent source of annoyance or distraction. If this tactic worked, it's doubtful that the American Cancer Society (ACS) would list nagging as something not to do when helping family or friends quit [source: ACS]. Smokers may even go for a smoke as a way to escape the repeated verbal noise [source: ACS]. Cigarettes can become the needed friend while the nagger becomes the enemy. If you have to ask your roommate to pick up his wet towel -- on average -- seven times every day before he does it, for example, and this has gone on for years, your nagging hasn't produced a change in his behavior. Nagging repeatedly about smoking probably won't be any more effective.
It is one thing to voice your hatred of smoking through nagging and criticism, but even the negative thinking inside your head can have far-reaching effects. Doubt and disgust are hard to disguise. Maybe you can cut back on negative comments and even add a lot of positive ones to encourage and reinforce quitting efforts. But if your own thinking stinks, it will most likely seep out through your expressions and unspoken tension. No matter how much you love someone and want to take away a pain or problem or addiction for them, the battle isn't yours, and each situation is a chance for the smoker to learn skills for coping and pressing on as a nonsmoker.
If you assume that a smoker can't quit without lots of outside pressure, or believe that he or she just doesn't care enough to stop for good, only creates a pattern of failure before any smoke-free efforts even get started. Thinking that a two-pack-a-day smoker doesn't stand a chance of quitting is understandable in the face of the odds and statistics, but carrying negative thoughts about a smoker's chance of success is itself kind of toxic.
Anyone can quit smoking. If you doubt it will work for the one you love, try replacing negative thoughts of failure with an image of your future nonsmoker chewing gum instead of lighting up and smelling like fabric softener instead of smoke. Hold onto these thoughts. Be on the side of the ones you love and help them win.
The FDA recently announced plans to explore nicotine reduction in cigarettes to non-addictive levels. HowStuffWorks takes a look at the possibility.
More Great Links
- American Cancer Society. "Helping a Smoker Quit: Do's and Don'ts." Cancer.org. Nov. 3, 2010 (April 29, 2011)http://www.cancer.org/healthy/stayawayfromtobacco/helping-a-smoker-quit
- American Lung Association. "Health Effects." LungUSA.org. 2011. (April 19, 2011)http://www.lungusa.org/stop-smoking/about-smoking/health-effects/
- American Lung Association. "Smoking." LungUSA.org. 2011. (April 19, 2011)http://www.lungusa.org/stop-smoking/about-smoking/health-effects/smoking.html
- American Lung Association. "Stop Smoking." LungUSA.org. 2011. (April 19, 2011)http://www.lungusa.org/stop-smoking/
- American Lung Association. "Tips for Parents." LungUSA.org. 2011. (April 19, 2011)http://www.lungusa.org/stop-smoking/about-smoking/preventing-smoking/for-parents.html
- Association for Psychological Science (APS). "Anger Makes People Want Things More." Nov. 1, 2010. (April 29, 2011)http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/anger-makes-people-want-things-more.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Resources for Individuals, Smoking and Tobacco Use." Feb. 14, 2011. (April 19, 2011)http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/resources_for_you/individuals/index.htm
- Hainer, Ray. "Social Smokers Aren't Hooked on Nicotine, Just Smoking." CNN.com. April 24, 2010. (April 29, 2011)http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/04/24/social.smokers/index.html
- McKinley, Jesse. "Smoking Ban Hits Home. Truly." The New York Times. Jan. 26, 2009. (April 30, 2011)http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/us/27belmont.html
- Merriam-Webster. "Nag." 2011. (April 29, 2011)http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nag?show=1&t=1304168476
- National Institutes of Health (NIH). "Quitting Smoking." NIH.gov. April 28, 2011. (May 3, 2011)http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/quittingsmoking.html
- TIME, Health and Science. "The Bright Side of Anger: It Motivates Others." TIME com. Dec. 15, 2010. (April 29, 2011)http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2037351,00.html
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General. "Tobacco Cessation: You Can Quit Smoking Now!" 2011. (April 30, 2011)http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/tobacco/
- World Bank. "Global Trends in Tobacco Use." WorldBank.org. 2011. (April 19, 2011)http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTHEALTHNUTRITIONANDPOPULATION/0,,print:Y~isCURL:Y~contentMDK:22760718~menuPK:282516~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:282511~isCURL:Y~isCURL:Y,00.html