Helping someone give up smoking

Giving up anything is hard. We’ve all had to do it at one point or another. Imagine that but 10x worse. That’s what giving up smoking is like. It’s an addiction which means weaning off is gonna be both physically and mentally draining. We’re here to talk you through how to support someone going through it.

A young man is talking to his friend. He wants to help her quit smoking. This is a wide-angle image.

Tempting as it is to persuade those closest to you to give up smoking, they have a much better chance of success if they’ve made the decision themselves. So wait until they’re ready to quit smoking, and then think about helping someone to give up smoking.

Offering your help to give up smoking 

Most quitters take several attempts to give up, so prepare yourself for the long-haul. Once you’re sure you wanna help, establish that they want your support as well. Giving unsolicited help or advice is never a good idea. “Some people like support and some like to do it on their own,” says Quit counsellor Liz Hine.

How to encourage someone to stop smoking 

So, everyone’s happy for you to help give up smoking. Next step: make yourself readily available. Send them supportive texts and be ready to meet up, or talk on the phone or online if they need it. “It’s really important for non-smokers to be as supportive as they can if they’re trying to help someone quit,” says Stop Smoking Advisor, Vishnee Sauntoo. “It’s not about telling them it’s really easy to do; it’s about being understanding and supportive.” This requires understanding and patience, so:

  • Try to avoid dishing out your advice on how they should be doing things unless they’ve asked for it.
  • Don’t forget that they’re in charge of quitting so they make the decisions.
  • Remind them of the benefits of quitting, such as feeling fitter and richer, but don’t nag or lecture.
  • Ask questions and listen to their answers – talking can be a huge release for someone who is quitting.
  • On the other hand, they may have times when they want to shut themselves away. Accept that this is part of the process and not a personal rejection. Enjoy the ‘time off’ and be ready to be there when they need you again.

Dealing with mood swings and relapses 

When you’re helping someone to give up smoking, things can get pretty intense. All those urges to smoke and smoking withdrawal symptoms can lead to some shocking mood swings. Be prepared to be the recipient of these for a while. Remind yourself that they will come to an end eventually. “Don’t take it personally if someone’s having a moody moment – it’s probably because they’re trying to beat their craving,” says Vishnee.

According to Vishnee, cravings only last for up to five minutes, so using a distraction can definitely help. “Try going out for a walk to get some fresh air – exercise is a good distraction – or offering them a drink of water. Once they get over that period of time they’re able to carry on with the day.”

Keep in mind, quitting smoking cold turkey can cause side effects such as weight gain so be kind to the quitter and don’t be on them to do anything else bit to stop smoking cigarettes. 

Get involved in helping someone to give up smoking 

To help someone stop smoking, you can’t just offer moral support from the sidelines. There are plenty of ways for you to be actively involved:

  • Give up something of your own – this will take some of the focus away from your friend’s endeavour, as well as adding a bit of competition. If you’re doing well it’s harder for them to cave in.
  • Often, visits to a stop smoking service or a call to a helpline can be part of giving up. There are also support groups, replacement therapy or behavioural therapy, all of which can help get to the root of the addiction. Whichever path they choose, take an active interest in it and be there to give them help to stop smoking. 
  • Organise activities/nights out. Show them that giving up smoking doesn’t mean life is boring; nights out don’t have to revolve around cigarettes.
  • They might need to use nicotine replacement therapy in the form of medication nicotine patches or gum lozenges to stop smoking. It’s important to note that there are some patches health benefits such as no sore jaw. Either way, it’s important not to judge them for using these to break the habit, just let them do what they need to.

When you’re a smoker trying to support a quitter 

If you’re a smoker, even just a ‘social smoker‘, you can still be supportive.  “Smokers don’t like others leaving the fold, so they try to entice people back by offering them cigarettes,” says Liz. Try to put your own needs aside and remember how hard it is for the person who’s trying to quit. You may think you’re being generous by dishing out cigarettes, but it’s not helpful to them in the long-term.

“You could also decide to give up together and buddy up to support each other,” suggests Liz. “This can be a really helpful way of quitting because you can be there for each other on email and in social situations.”

Make quitting rewarding 

How to encourage someone to stop smoking? No matter how small the achievement, make sure they know you’re proud of their progress. Even small gestures, like saying well done when they’ve got through the first day, can give them a massive boost.

“One of the things we recommend is incentivising them and giving them something to look forward to,” says Vishnee. “For example, offer to buy them dinner if they quit for a week.” That way, you both get to enjoy the fact that they’re giving up.

You can also remind them of the amazing things that they’re doing for their health such as improving their heart rate. It may not seem like it to them because of the nicotine withdrawal, so you have to be their number one cheerleader.

Next Steps

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 12-Sep-2021