How to help a smoker quit
When a smoker tries to quit, support from people in their life is critical. They will have a difficult time for a few weeks, so helping them in small ways can boost their chance of success. Also, be aware that many things can sabotage a smoker’s quit attempt.
Take a look at the list below and see some ways that you can be an asset and not a hindrance to their efforts.
When someone is trying to quit, don’t:
- Smoke near them. Seeing someone else smoking is a powerful trigger to smoke. Go somewhere else. Do it quietly. Don’t even bother telling them why you’re leaving.
- Offer them a cigarette. Bad idea. This is direct sabotage.
- Tease them. Taunting a new ex-smoker for their wish to have a cigarette will likely make them want one. They’re trying to do something extremely important for their future. Save the jokes for later.
- Doubt them. They already have shaky confidence. You don’t have to make it worse.
- Judge, scold, or nag them. While it might be satisfying to you, it is unhelpful to them, and it isn’t going to make them more likely to quit. They will resent it.
- Ask them if they’ve smoked. You are not the smoking police.
- Whatever it is you are about to preach to them, they almost certainly already know it. Unsolicited advice is rarely welcome. It will likely be interpreted as an attack.
- Tell them you understand how they feel. No, you don’t. Your experience is not their experience, and vice versa. Maybe you want to understand what it’s like for them so you can help. When in doubt, ask.
- Make it about you. If their quit attempt is giving you some sort of difficulty, you can be sure that it’s giving them much, much more difficulty. Take one for the team.
- Take their grumpiness personally. It is just temporary, and much more difficult for them than it is for you. Roll with it. It’ll go away soon enough.
- Tell them to just go back to smoking. This is selfish. See “make it all about you” above.
If they have a slip, don’t:
- Give up on them. It doesn’t mean they failed. The object is to quit smoking, not to be perfect. They can still get on the right track toward quitting.
- Ask them “why” they had one. This will almost always be interpreted as an attack on their decisions or thinking. The word “why” is heavily loaded with judgment.
So now you know some things to avoid doing. What should you do instead? Read on!
When someone is trying to quit, do:
- Congratulate them. And celebrate their efforts!
- Be understanding. This is tough for them.
- Ask how you can be helpful. Everyone is different! Don’t assume you know what they would want. When in doubt, ask! “What can I do to help?”, “What could I be doing right now to help you?”, “How can I best be helpful?”
- Let them know it’s OK to talk to you. They may need to vent to someone.
- Be a good listener. Listen without judging and don’t try to “fix” them. Unless they are asking you to do something for them, just let them be understood. This will be very valuable to them.
- Make all offers and conversations about their well-being. Don’t make it about how their smoking affects others or about whether they are being successful.
- Ask how they are feeling. And how you can help.
- Offer to be on-call. They may have a tough moment and will need someone to talk to for a few minutes until the urge passes. Make yourself available for this.
- Offer to help with tasks. Even if those tasks have nothing to do with smoking. Everything in their lives is more difficult right now. You can ease that a little.
- Offer to do things with them. Help them get their mind off of their urges.
- Make every environment that you control (your home, your worksite) smoke free. Being around people smoking is tough for someone trying to quit.
- Remove smoking props. Ashtrays and lighters can trigger urges and make things difficult for them.
- Encourage them to talk to health coach. UPMC Health Plan has health coaches who are very experienced at helping people quit smoking. Your friend or loved one can call 1-800-807-0751 and explore their options.
When a quitter has a slip, do:
- Praise them for their efforts. It took courage for them to decide to quit.
- Praise them for the learning experience. Now they know that a certain situation is a trigger for them to have a powerful urge.
- Encourage them to try again. If they’ve lapsed, offer to be helpful again.
If you or someone you know wants to quit smoking, they can call a UPMC Health Plan health coach at 1-800-807-0751. If the quitter is not eligible for our programs, the health coach will direct them to competent and helpful resources, like 1-800-QUIT-NOW.