How can you encourage your loved one to quit smoking?

man breaking cigarette
No matter how you encourage someone to stop smoking, knowing their options for support is key. See more drug pictures.
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Hard numbers and reasons for not smoking can go in one ear and out the other for most smokers. But smoking is public enemy No. 1 to many people, so smokers aren't exactly feeling the love these days. Cigarettes are objects of scorn and often this negativity carries over to real contempt for the people who smoke them. As a friend or family member, however, keeping perspective on the problem itself is important: It's not you against your loved one; it's you and your loved one against the smoking addiction.

Quitting smoking without medicines or nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) like the patch or gum leads to abysmal success rates of just 5 to 7 percent for those in the United States who try to quit [source: American Cancer Society]. Chances increase to 25 to 33 percent smoke-free after six months with the help of medicines and may even be greater with combination therapies [source: American Cancer Society]. The good news is that there are an estimated 48 million people in the U.S. who are former smokers, proving that quitting is possible [source: American Lung Association]. What data cannot measure is the effect of emotional support and encouragement in the life of the smoker who tries to quit.


Whether encouraging a smoker to quit by stepping down or going cold turkey, or by using Web site support groups or in-person counseling, knowing your loved one might be as important as knowing what options are out there for kicking the habit. Pills, sprays, gums and e-cigarettes are just some of the options for beginning to fight the physical addiction, but beating the emotional and habitual addiction requires different tools and approaches.

Encouragement is part persuasion and part inspiration, and providing both without taking control from the hands of the smoker is a true labor of love. How can you encourage someone to be a quitter without having them quit on you? Read on for some ideas.


Calm Logic

Cigarette smoking grabs a hold of people early on, with 86 percent of smokers starting before age 21 -- and it can stick around for keeps, contributing to about 393,000 deaths per year in the United States alone [source: American Lung Association]. Worldwide, one out of every three people smokes, about 46 million of them in the U.S. [sources: World Bank, American Lung Association]. These are overwhelmingly negative numbers, but keeping negative emotions in check -- even when you can't stand seeing someone you love light up -- may improve your chances of being heard.

For a smoker, cigarettes often are comforting, something to look forward to throughout the day, and an escape from stress or confrontation. Having an awareness of what someone might be "giving up" by going without and making an effort to maybe even mourn or commiserate the loss with a smoker can make you a source of comfort and relief from the stress of quitting; better you than the cigarette be the friend. Being an encourager might mean stopping all of the negative talk about the habit itself and focusing solely on the person.


Smoking is an extremely difficult habit to quit, but while it's helpful to acknowledge this fact, don't give into the defeating attitudes -- yours and the smokers -- that can come with it. Keep up the good fight even in the face of multiple failures. Some tips from the American Cancer Society on how to do this include the following:

  • Let the person quitting take the lead in efforts to go and stay smoke-free.
  • Help with small daily activities or chores to ease the burden of stress and physical withdrawal.
  • Celebrate even the smallest gains against the smoker's old habits.
  • Stay calm and understanding even after relapses.
  • Keep advice, complaining and negative thoughts to yourself.
  • Be positive [source: American Cancer Society].

Encouraging a loved one to quit smoking without getting frustrated or losing hope can be hard, but it's not really as hard as giving up smoking. Set the smoker's harder task at the forefront and be a supporter. Some ways to lead from the heart follow next.


Loving Support

If someone you love is a smoker, you're more than likely dealing with an addiction. Social smoking, or the kind of smoking that is thought to be just a once-and-awhile situational kind, without addiction to nicotine, is not the norm [source: Hainer]. Most smokers get hooked by the nicotine going into the brain and body, and it can happen so quickly and at such an early age that parents even are advised to warn against smoking beginning when kids are 5 to 6 years old [source: American Lung Association].

Whether or not the smoker in your life wants to use or wants to avoid the "addicted" label, it's a reality that may be helpful in keeping the right frame of mind. Being overly emotional or overly factual about the dangers and lasting effects for the smoker and family and friends, or getting angry and taking it personally, won't change the addiction that is already planted and probably even growing. Lead with words from the heart about why you want to encourage a loved one to stop and be ready to offer concrete steps for when the person is ready.


Spending time "in" the problem with the smoker, and recognizing that no one is above addiction or weakness, shows understanding, empathy and awareness of the human weakness and chemical strength of dependencies. But don't let smokers off the hook; gently reel them back in each time interest in quitting is waning. Provide support through steps forward and any steps back by rewarding and knowing when to gently rebuke. Encouragement includes speaking the truth in love and knowing when a loved one is struggling, rebelling or maybe even trying to play you and light up out of sight. Be there through all of it with consistent calm, love and logic.

Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • American Cancer Society. "Helping a Smoker Quit: Dos and Don'ts." Nov. 3, 2010 (April 29, 2011)
  • American Lung Association. "Health Effects." 2011. (April 19, 2011)
  • American Lung Association. "Stop Smoking." 2011. (April 19, 2011)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Resources for Individuals, Smoking and Tobacco Use." Feb. 14, 2011. (April 19, 2011)
  • "Can prayer heal?" (April 19, 2011)
  • Hainer, Ray. "Social Smokers Aren't Hooked on Nicotine, Just Smoking." April 24, 2010. (April 29, 2011)
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General. "Tobacco Cessation: You Can Quit Smoking Now!" 2011. (April 30, 2011)
  • World Bank. "Global Trends in Tobacco Use." 2011. (April 19, 2011),,print:Y~isCURL:Y~contentMDK:22760718~menuPK:282516~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:282511~isCURL:Y~isCURL:Y,00.html