12 Tips to Support Your Quitter


Friends, family members, and significant others can play a big part in helping a person become smokefree. That's because people who feel supported are more likely to quit smoking for good.

About 40 percent of smokers who quit say that support from others mattered a lot in their success.

Follow these 12 tips to help the person in your life quit smoking.

Smoking cigarettes isn't a bad habit. It's a serious and complicated addiction. That makes quitting smoking one of the biggest challenges many smokers will face.

Deciding to quit doesn't mean all thoughts of smoking immediately vanish. It takes time for cravings to fade, and it can take a person more than one try to successfully quit. Most people who quit don't quit cold turkey on their own. They get a lot of help and support from friends, family, and significant others. That's where you come in!

The more you know, the more you can help.

Learn more about why quitting is so hard.

You may not realize it, but you and the person you're trying to help quit have a style to the way you both deal with smoking. This style influences their smoking and quitting. Your own routines and habits can also influence her.

  • Maybe you didn't mind them smoking in the past.
  • Maybe you argue about smoking.
  • Maybe you avoid talking about smoking altogether.
  • Maybe the way you interact about smoking has changed because of a health problem.

The relationship style you share influences:

  • Their smoking
  • Their quitting
  • Their health
  • Your health

Understanding your relationship style can help you understand what each of you may have to change to better deal with their smoking and quitting. For example:

  • Maybe you need to recognize more of your friend's/family member's small successes when quitting, like taking them out to lunch after being smokefree for a week.
  • Maybe you need to stop criticizing them if they slip and have a cigarette.
  • Maybe you'll decide it's time for you to quit smoking, too.

Quitting smoking can be hard for people to talk about. So what's the best way to start a conversation about it? Look for an opening.

Spotting an Opening

Your friend/family member might say something that gives you an opening to start a conversation about quitting smoking.

Here are some examples:

  • "I'm thinking about quitting smoking."
  • "My doctor told me that I should quit smoking."
  • "I'm pregnant/my wife is pregnant/my sister's kids are asking me about my cigarettes. I should probably quit smoking for them."

Be ready to take advantage of an opening. Let them know you think it's great they're considering quitting and that you're ready to help. If you're an ex-smoker, you can draw from your own experience of quitting. Let them know how much better you feel now that you're smokefree.

Here are some examples:

  • "I'm so proud of you for trying to quit smoking. I'll help with whatever you need to make it happen."
  • "I know quitting smoking will be hard, but I know you can do it. Have you set a quit date?"
  • "You're not in this alone. Even if it gets tough, I'll be here for you."
  • "Quitting smoking is the best thing I ever did! Let me know if you need any tips."

Creating an Opening

If they doesn't give you an opening, create one by asking them if they thought about quitting. The key is to ask—don't tell. Telling her to quit can make her feel cornered or defensive, and that won't get you anywhere.

It can help to bring up quitting in the context of something else, like smoking bans, an ad you saw or something you heard in the news.

Check out these examples:

  • "I heard on the news that taxes on cigarettes might go up soon. Sounds expensive. What do you think?"
  • "I saw a commercial last night that showed an ex-smoker who had to have his legs amputated. I didn't know that could happen. Did you?"
  • "I'm really excited that you're starting a family! Have you thought about quitting smoking?"

Everyone's experience with smoking and quitting smoking is different. Don't assume you know what it's like for them, and don't assume you know what they need to successfully quit. Ask!

Asking questions they cannot answer in just one word (like yes or no) is a great way to understand what they're going through.

Here are some examples:

  • "What made you want to start smoking?"
  • "What things make you crave a cigarette?"
  • "What made you decide to quit smoking?"
  • "What things have been stressing you out lately?"
  • "What could I do to help make quitting easier for you?"

Quitting smoking is about them—not you.

So listen to what they have to say. If you ask a question, be quiet and give them time to answer. Resist the urge to insert your own comments.

Lectures, nagging, and scolding won't help your friend or family member quit smoking. It might just put you on their bad side, and they may not come to you for help when they really need it.

Here are some things you should NOT do when trying to help someone quit smoking:

  • Nag them about why smoking is bad
  • Police them by counting the number of cigarettes they smoked
  • Ask them if they smoked today
  • Argue with them about being irritable when they're going through withdrawal
  • Give them a hard time if they have a bigger appetite from withdrawal
  • Get upset if they slip and smoke a cigarette

For most smokers, cigarettes became a regular part of daily life. So there are a lot of people, places, and things that might trigger a craving because they remind them of smoking. Offer distractions to help them deal with their cravings without a cigarette.

Adopting a smokefree lifestyle can seem hard. Lend support to your friend or family member by helping them plan smokefree activities. And, if you're still smoking, avoid smoking around them (especially if you've designated an activity as "smokefree").

Here are a few activities you could suggest:

  • Go to the movies (and let them pick the show)
  • Take a walk
  • Plan a game night with a group of friends
  • Make dinner
  • Go out to eat at their favorite restaurant
  • Sign up for a class like photography, painting, or cooking
  • Go to a concert
  • Go to a basketball, baseball, or football game

Some triggers and cravings are unavoidable. Help your friend or family member prepare by thinking of ways to distract themselves until the craving passes. Most cravings only last a few minutes, so making a short phone call or finding a task to keep their hands busy might be enough.

Here are some ideas:

  • Chew gum or (slowly) eat hard candy
  • Play a game on your cell phone (like Smokefree's WordWeather, available for free in the App Store!)
  • Put a toothpick in your mouth
  • Switch tasks for a change of scenery
  • Play with a rubber band
  • Munch on some carrot sticks, nuts, or celery
  • Squeeze a stress ball
  • Take deep breaths and try to relax
  • Drink lots of water

Consider putting together a smokefree survival kit with a few of these items for your friend or family member, so they're ready to deal with cravings in the moment.

Supporting someone who is trying to quit smoking can be frustrating and exhausting. But you can't compare it to the frustration and exhaustion they might be facing. Stay upbeat and don't give up on them (or yourself). Your support is important!

The withdrawal that can come from quitting smoking is uncomfortable and might make a person have mood swings or seem irritable.

  • Don't take their moods personally.
  • Don't tell them it was easier to put up with their moods when they were smoking.
  • Don't suggest it would be easier for them to just go back to smoking.

Remember, the withdrawal is temporary, but the benefits of quitting smoking are long term. The cravings a person might face can be hard to deal with. Don't let them lose confidence in quitting. Check in on them, and let them know you support them.

Here are some examples:

  • "I can tell this is hard on you, but I'm proud of you for sticking with it. Let's do something fun to celebrate how far you've come!"
  • "It sounds like you're having a rough day. How about I take care of dinner tonight/watch the kids/mow the lawn so you can have some time for yourself? You deserve it."

There is a chance your friend/family member will slip at some point and smoke a cigarette. Don't get angry. They'll probably feel guilty enough, and a slip does not mean they've failed. Remind them a slip is just one bump in the road.

If they slip:

  • Tell them you know they can still quit and remind them of all the progress they have made.
  • Help them figure out what triggered the craving that led to the slip.
  • Help them come up with a plan for dealing with the craving if it happens again.
  • Ask if there is anything else you can do to help.

Here are examples of ways you could respond to a slip:

  • "Slips happen. Don't beat yourself up over it! Like anything tough, you learn as you go. Use right now as a time to restart and get back on track."
  • "So you slipped. Quitting isn't easy and many people need several tries before they quit for good. You got this, and I'm here for you."
  • "We all slip sometimes. Let's talk about what's triggering you to smoke. That will help you stay on track this time. Just don't smoke that next cigarette!"

Recognize your friend's/family member's smokefree successes and milestones. Staying smokefree for one day, one week, or one year are all reasons to celebrate. So are throwing out all of the ashtrays in the house, ditching any reminder of cigarettes, and passing on an after-dinner cigarette. Help your friend/family member celebrate by planning a fun activity.

Here are a few easy celebration ideas:

  • Send them flowers or a card
  • Surprise them with tickets to a concert or show
  • Give them a gift card to their favorite store
  • Make a home-cooked dinner

A compliment can go a long way to recognize the positive changes made.

  • "The smokefree life works well for you—you look great!"
  • "You make quitting smoking look easy. You should be proud of yourself. I am!"

Quitting smoking can cause a lot of stress. And, unfortunately, many people may be used to reaching for a cigarette as a way to deal with stress. Help them break the cycle by finding healthier ways to de-stress. If you notice they are stressed, try suggesting a relaxing activity. If you smoke, remember not to agree to have a cigarette together—that will set them back.

Consider suggesting one of these smokefree stress relievers:

  • Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths
  • Play with a pet
  • Take a walk
  • Make a nice dinner
  • Read the Sunday comics
  • Try yoga or a spin class
  • Go to a comedy club or watch a funny TV show
  • Do a fun home project
  • Watch a sunset (or sunrise)
  • Do a crossword puzzle
  • Meet a friend at a cafe to chat
  • Take a nap
  • Take a bath or long shower

The challenges of quitting smoking don't stop when a person puts down their last cigarette. Cravings can pop up weeks, or even months, later. It's not uncommon for ex-smokers to start smoking again within the first three months of quitting.

Let your friend/family member know you're there for the long haul. Keep celebrating their smokefree anniversaries and offer distractions to help them deal with cravings. Your ongoing support could be all they need to make this quit attempt their last.

Unfortunately, there isn't a clear answer to this. The amount of support each person needs is different for everyone and sometimes even from one quit attempt to the next. Your best bet is to just ask. They'll be able to tell you what support they want (and how much).

Yes! People who are trying to quit smoking can find tips, tools, and support on Smokefree and Smokefree Women. You can also encourage them to talk to their doctor or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or sign up for SmokefreeTXT for even more support.

Everyone experiences nicotine withdrawal differently. There is no set time for how long it takes for withdrawal to end, but for many people symptoms are worst the first few days after quitting. Still, withdrawal can last for two or three weeks (or more). Be extra mindful of the things that could trigger their urge to smoke during this time. Have a distraction or backup plan ready in case a craving hits.

Many smokers get strong pressure to quit smoking when they become pregnant. Many of them want to quit smoking, too! But being pregnant doesn't magically make it easier. And while many women succeed in quitting smoking before their baby is born, many have a hard time staying quit after their baby is born.

Pregnant women who quit smoking can have withdrawal and cravings just like women who aren't pregnant. Many women who smoke use it as a way to deal with stress, and while having a baby can be an extremely happy time in life, it can be a very stressful time, too. Your support is important to helping her quit and stay quit.

Learn more about smoking and pregnancy and watch Smokefree Women's video, "Reach out & offer her a helping hand",http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDlM34v42R8&feature=player_embedded on YouTube.

Quitting smoking is the best thing a person can do for their health. But the decision to quit is one they have to make for themselves. You can't force them if they're not ready. However, you should continue to revisit the topic, and let them know that you'll be there to support them when they're ready.

If you smoke, ask yourself if you can be supportive while continuing to smoke. Your friend's/family member's decision to quit smoking does not mean that you have to quit, too. But if you've been thinking about quitting or cutting back, now could be a good time.

If you aren't ready to quit smoking, decide how you will handle your own smoking around them. You don't want your own smoking to trigger their urge to reach for a cigarette. Here are some suggestions:

  • Don't smoke around them or buy cigarettes when you're together.
  • Use mouthwash, wash your hands, and change your clothes to avoid smelling like cigarettes when you're together. The smell of cigarette smoke could trigger a craving to smoke.
  • Create a "no smoking" rule for your home and car if you live together.
  • Keep your ashtrays, lighters, and cigarettes out of sight.
  • Be supportive of smokefree activities, like going to the movies instead of a bar.