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Helping a smoker quit

Someone who tries to give up cigarettes is taking on a physical and emotional challenge. Your support can help.

When a friend or loved one decides to quit smoking, it's a big deal. You'll undoubtedly want to help. But how?

Policing doesn't work. A smoker has to quit for his or her own reasons and in his or her own way. But there is much you can do to offer support. The American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute offer these eight tips:

1. Let the quitter lead. Ask if he or she wants help and, if so, what kind of help. Some people like regular questions and check-ins. Others want to be left alone. The person's needs may change as the days and weeks progress too.

2. Ignore mood swings. Grumpiness is a given, especially in the first few weeks. It's not personal. It's physically and mentally tough to kick the tobacco habit.

3. Be on call. Volunteer to babysit, cook a meal, help with a chore, research quit-smoking resources or just be available to listen—whatever helps the person get through the rough times.

4. Offer distractions. Plan events away from tobacco triggers to distract the person from cravings. Outings might include a sporting event, a movie or an art exhibit.

5. Exercise together. Offer to buddy up for a walk, a bike ride or a trip to the gym. Exercise relieves stress and cravings and keeps the hands and mind busy. It also helps control weight. Many people who quit smoking put on a few pounds, which can become an excuse to light up again.

6. Offer encouragement and support. Small gestures can say "I'm here for you." Some ideas include:

  • A congratulatory card or email.
  • A gift of mints, flavored water, hard candies, gum, flavored toothpicks or other mouth-refreshing goodies.
  • A new body wash, aftershave or toothpaste to enjoy as the smell and taste of tobacco go away.
  • A piggybank to collect cash that won't be spent on cigarettes.

7. Avoid giving advice. No matter how well intentioned it is, advice usually doesn't help. Scolding, nagging, preaching and judging don't work either. Just keep stressing how proud you are of the person and that you're willing to help.

8. Rejoice. Milestones big and small are worth celebrating. Don't skimp on hugs, high-fives and hoorays.

If they stumble—or fall

For some, the road to becoming an ex-smoker is littered with cigarettes on the sly and old habits that just won't die. If your friend, colleague or relative starts smoking again, forget the guilt trip. Leave some emotional room for another try by:

  • Acknowledging how tough quitting is. Tobacco is highly addictive.
  • Reminding the person that most people try to quit many times before they find success. Practice can make perfect.
  • Assuming another attempt is in the person's future. Say "When you try again," not "If you try again."
  • Giving the person kudos for making the attempt to quit—no matter how long it lasted.

You also can help your friend or loved one learn from setbacks. Try asking supportive, nonjudgmental questions, such as "What strengths did you find in yourself this time?" and "What will you do differently next time?"

Learn more

For more information about quitting smoking, visit the Smoking health topic center or smokefree.gov.

reviewed 10/15/2019

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