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Helping a Smoker Quit: Do’s and Don’ts

General hints for friends and family

    Do respect that the quitter is in charge. This is their lifestyle change and their challenge, not yours.

    Do ask the person whether they want you to ask regularly how they’re doing. Ask how they’re feeling – not just whether they’ve stayed quit.

    Do let the person know that it’s OK to talk to you whenever they need to hear encouraging words.

    Do help the quitter get what they need, such as hard candy to suck on, straws to chew on, and fresh veggies cut up and kept in the refrigerator.

    Do spend time doing things with the quitter to keep their mind off smoking – go to the movies, take a walk to get past a craving (what many call a “nicotine fit”), or take a bike ride together.

    Do try to see it from the smoker’s point of view – a smoker’s habit may feel like an old friend that’s always been there when times were tough. It’s hard to give that up.

    Do make your home smoke free, meaning that no one can smoke in any part of the house.

    Do remove all lighters and ash trays from your home. Remove anything that reminds them of smoking

    Do wash clothes that smell like smoke. Clean carpets and drapes. Use air fresheners to help get rid of the tobacco smells – and don’t forget the car, too.

    Do help the quitter with a few chores, some child care, cooking – whatever will help lighten the stress of quitting.

    Do celebrate along the way. Quitting smoking is a BIG DEAL!

    Don’t doubt the smoker’s ability to quit. Your faith in them reminds them they can do it.

    Don’t judge, nag, preach, tease, or scold. This may make the smoker feel worse about him or herself. You don’t want your loved one to turn to a cigarette to soothe hurt feelings.

    Don’t take the quitter’s grumpiness personally during their nicotine withdrawal. Tell them that you understand the symptoms are real and remind them that they won’t last forever. The symptoms usually get better in about 2 weeks.

    Don’t offer advice. Just ask how you can help with the plan or program they are using.

If your ex-smoker “slips”

    Don’t assume that they will start back smoking like before. A “slip” (taking a puff or smoking a cigarette or 2) is pretty common when a person is quitting.

    Do remind the quitter how long they went without a cigarette before the slip.

    Do help the quitter remember all the reasons they wanted to quit, and help them forget about the slip as soon as possible.

    Do continue to offer support and encouragement. Remind them they’re still a “quitter” – NOT a smoker.

    Don’t scold, tease, nag, blame, or make the quitter feel guilty. Be sure the quitter knows that you care about them whether or not they smoke.

If your quitter relapses

Research shows that most people try to quit smoking several times before they succeed. (It’s called a relapse when smokers go back to smoking like they were before they tried to quit.) If a relapse happens, think of it as practice for the next time. Don’t give up your efforts to encourage and support your loved one. If the person you care about fails to quit or starts smoking again:

    Do praise them for trying to quit, and for whatever length of time (days, weeks, or months) of not smoking.

    Do remind your loved one that they didn’t fail – they are learning how to quit – and you’re going to be there for them the next time and as many times as it takes.

    Do encourage them to try again. Don’t say, “If you try again...” Say, “When you try again...” Studies show that most people who don’t succeed in quitting are ready to try again in the near future.

    Do encourage them to learn from the attempt. Things a person learns from a failed attempt to quit may help them quit for good next time. It takes time and skills to learn to be a non-smoker.

    Do say, “It’s normal to not succeed the first few times you try to quit. Most people understand this, and know that they have to try to quit again. You didn’t smoke for (length of time) this time. Now you know you can do that much. You can get even further next time.”

If you are a smoker

    Do smoke outside and always away from the quitter.

    Do keep your cigarettes, lighters, and matches out of sight. They might be triggers for your loved one to smoke.

    Don’t ever offer the quitter a smoke or any other form of tobacco, even as a joke!

    Do join your loved one in their effort to quit. It’s better for your health and might be easier to do with someone else who is trying to quit, too.

Call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 to find out what resources might be available to help someone quit and stay quit.


Last Medical Review: 10/11/2013
Last Revised: 10/11/2013