The Great American Smokeout: How to Support Someone Who Wants to Quit Smoking

A person's hands, being supported by others, holding a broken cigarette

The American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout encourages people who smoke to quit for just one day in solidarity with others around the country. It happens annually on the third Thursday of November.

Cheshire Medical Center's Tobacco Cessation Program Manager, James Duffy, explains how this helps people who want to quit smoking and how others can support their journey towards being smoke-free.

"Did you know 70% of people who smoke try to quit annually?" says James, a former smoker himself. "Most people who smoke want to quit, or at least try. Going without a cigarette for 8 hours, your blood oxygen level rises to normal, and 24 hours will start to reduce your risk of a heart attack. So there are immediate physical benefits to quitting for one day."

For some, this one day is a significant first step.

Nicotine is highly addictive, and studies show it can be more addictive than cocaine and heroin. Most people who smoke try to stop multiple times before they quit for the long haul, but it can be done. Support can be crucial — which is where Cheshire's Tobacco Cessation Program and the actions of friends, family, and coworkers come in.

People trying to quit double their chances of staying smoke-free when they engage in supportive coaching combined with nicotine replacement therapies. Over-the-counter gums, lozenges, and patches can be expensive, but Primary Care Providers at Cheshire can write prescriptions for these, so they are free at our retail pharmacy. A smoker's social environment is also very important.

5 ways to support people who want to quit smoking

1. If you smoke, don't smoke around them

"One of the biggest barriers to quitting is peer pressure," James says. "If you have friends or family members who smoke, it's really hard to quit. Please be supportive and respectful of someone's efforts to stop smoking."

2. If you're not a smoker, learn how hard it is to quit and don't see relapse as a failure

"There are lots of resources out there designed for people who are trying to support others who are trying to quit smoking – to have an understanding about it." James adds, "most people who quit tried many, many times before they succeed, and it's easy to relapse again. Not viewing relapse as failure is really effective."

Resources James suggests:

3. Don’t lecture or nag

"It's hard for a loved one to see somebody doing something they know is not good for them. But believe me – the person smoking realizes it as well," James insists.

"It's a physical addiction, and psychologically, emotionally, it's a really hard habit to break. Sometimes there's a lot of frustration and negative self-talk around it. Imagine you're smoking, and you're also telling yourself, "this is not good for me, and it could kill me someday," but you can't stop. That's a pretty torturous state of mind; it's not helpful to reinforce that."

4. Ask WHY: Why they smoke, why they relapsed before, and why they want to quit

"When I counsel people, I use motivational interviewing, which helps people uncover their motivations about quitting," he says. "Just be supportive and really listen. This is about the smoker—it's not about you."

However, James adds that it's helpful to know where you are coming from before bringing the subject up. "Do you hate them smoking around you? Do you tend to argue about smoking, or is it a topic you avoid talking about?" James says knowing yourself will help you have a more supportive and productive conversation.

5. Don’t be afraid to start the conversation

"If somebody says they are thinking about quitting or their doctor told them they should, listen to those cues and bring some curiosity and compassion to that," says James. "A supportive conversation can do a lot to help somebody." He stresses that the conversation should always include asking what you can do to support them.

James also says if someone never talks about smoking, it's appropriate to start the conversation with a non-judgemental question, such as "How long have you been smoking?"

Discuss this article with them and ask if these suggestions for support would be helpful if they try to quit. Then take it one day at a time.