Helping Someone to Quit Smoking

If you have not smoked before, it is easy to assume that quitting is just a matter of determination and willpower alone, such as throwing away your cigarettes and quitting. It is not true. The fact is, many smokers make several attempts to quit before they manage to break free of the habit permanently. Quitting smoking is not easy – anyone making the attempt needs as much help and support as possible. That's where you come in.

Ex–smokers have often indicated that help from a friend or relative was crucial to their eventual success in quitting. You can definitely make a difference to the smoker in your life. Just like how everyone is different, each person's approach to quitting is different. Below is a general step–by–step guide to help you. If you require more advice, feel free to call our friendly counsellors at QuitLine 1800 438 2000^ or visit I Quit for free advice and tips.

Related: Environmental Tobacco Smoke

Step 1: Understand why someone smokes

There are many reasons why people light up. Here are the 3 most common reasons.

Reason 1: It’s in the mind. 
People who smoke for this reason do so because they feel stressed, unhappy, bothered or even bored. They start smoking as a distraction from their problems, or a way to cope with their stress.

Reason 2: It’s a habit. 
After smoking for a while, smoking can become a routine habit; a smoker may automatically light up a cigarette at certain places, at certain times or even with certain people. He or she often unconsciously reaches for a cigarette to keep their hands busy.

Reason 3: It’s an addiction. 
Cigarettes are addictive because they contain the drug nicotine, which is as addictive as heroin and cocaine. It gives smokers a temporary “feel good” sensation and makes them crave for more. They develop a nicotine addiction.

Step 2: Use the correct tone

  • Based on your knowledge of the smoker, use the tone that would best appeal to his or her personality.
  • Do avoid nagging, scolding, threatening or preaching — these do not work!
  • It will immediately place the smoker in a defensive position where he or she will not be receptive to any suggestions from you.
  • Instead offer non–judgemental support and encouragement.

Step 3: Select a comfortable time to bring up the topic

  • Bring up the subject at a right time.
  • Here is where your knowledge of the smoker would come in useful.
  • Broach the subject when you know the smoker is most relaxed and comfortable. Some examples include — over a meal, chilling-out, an evening walk.
  • Avoid talking about quitting when the smoker is feeling stressed or tired or when he or she is in a hurry. This might backfire.

Step 4: Gauge the smoker's attitude towards smoking and offer help according to the attitude

One good way is to ask him or her if he or she has thought about quitting before and plan your next move according to his or her response.

If the response is:

"No. I've never thought about quitting."

He or she most likely has not thought about quitting and is satisfied with the current status.

To help, you can:

  • Encourage gently

Respect and understand the smoker’s view on smoking, and do not push him or her to quit. Do let them know that you will be ready to offer your support should he or she decide to do so. You can also subtly try to change his or her perception of smoking over time by understanding their motivation for smoking. 

  • Raise his or her confidence 

Some smokers may have already tried to quit before, but their unsuccessful attempts have demoralised them, making them feel they cannot give up smoking. Reassure them that most smokers will make 3-4 attempts before they actually quit successfully. Remind him or her that there is no shame in trying again. 

  • Express your concern 

Don’t be discouraged if your efforts to help a smoker does not succeed the first few times. Drop the subject for a while then try again later. Remember that your friend or loved one has been smoking for some time, and that it will take time and constant effort to get him or her to quit. 

*Remember Step 2! You must be non-judgemental!*

You can use this information to gauge his or her perception of smoking and work towards changing that.

If you need help, you can call QuitLine 1800 438 2000^.

  • Assure the smoker that you would be there for him or her whenever he or she decides to quit.
  • Highlight the benefits of quitting smoking and show care and concern for his or her health.
  • Gather print information about the harmful effects of smoking and benefits of quitting and place them where the smoker can see or read them.
  • If smoking is affecting you personally, gently let the smoker know the effect it has on you and that you are willing to help if he or she decides to quit.

"I have thought about quitting, but I have not set a Quit Date."

If the person says this, it's likely that he or she is moving towards quitting smoking. However, he or she seems to have some reservations about making the final commitment to quit.

This could be due to insufficient knowledge or lack of confidence in his or her ability to quit successfully.

To help, you can:

  • Show your support

Let the smoker know you are happy that he or she has thought about quitting smoking. Discuss his or her likes and dislikes about smoking, and use this information to move him or her towards having more dislikes of smoking over time. 

  • Help actively 

Find out what is preventing him or her from making the commitment, and try to help remove any obstacles that could shake the smoker’s self-confidence. Reassure the smoker that it’s normal for smokers to take 3-4 attempts to successfully quit. Remind your friend of other instances where he or she took more than one attempt to successfully achieve something. 

  • Offer solutions to obstacles or mental blocks.  

Below are some examples of obstacles smokers may face and what you could say in response.

A smoker might say “I can’t quit smoking because…”

What you could say:

I’m afraid I’ll gain weight

Not everyone gains weight when they quit. Healthy eating and exercise can help avoid this.

I have no will power

Of course, you do. If you can (give an example of his or her will power from your experience), you can stop smoking. Quitting is a skill that you can learn, and I’m here to support you.

I’m addicted

Yes, but your body’s need for nicotine will subdue in a few weeks. Withdrawal symptoms are temporary and show that your body is healing.

The damage is done already

It’s never too late to quit smoking. Your body will begin recovering as soon as you stop, and your risk of diseases will start to fall.

Smoking relaxes me

Nicotine increases heart rate and blood pressure. When you’re not smoking, nicotine levels in your blood fall, so you feel uncomfortable and irritable. A cigarette relieves the discomfort; it doesn’t actually relax you.

  • Ease the fears of withdrawal symptoms 

Withdrawal symptoms may affect a smoker’s decision when he or she decides to quit. Let the smoker know that you will be there for him or her throughout his or her quit journey. 

You can also tell him or her about Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) — designed to help reduce the withdrawal symptoms. Although it is not for everyone, they should seek advice from their family doctor or a pharmacist. However, NRT will only work if the smoker is sincere in the quit attempt. 

Encourage the smoker to choose a quit date. 

However, do not pressure him or her (refer to Step 2). 

Be available to lend a listening ear and give constant encouragement. 

Gather resources and quit tips for him or her, which will come in handy once he or she has set a quit date. Below are some examples of withdrawal symptoms and how you can support them when they are attempting to quit. 

 Withdrawal symptoms:  What you could do:  
 Urge for a cigarette 
  • Tell he or she to put cigarettes in a different place so that the smoker cannot automatically reach out for one and start smoking again. 
  • Plan activities to do together, while avoiding people or places where there is a temptation to smoke a cigarette. 
  • Prepare low-calorie snacks such as sunflower seeds or fruits, to munch on when there is a temptation to smoke. 
 Headaches or feeling light-headed 
  • Get the smokers to rest in a cool, quiet place until he or she feels better. 
  • A mild painkiller may be helpful. 
 Coughing with phlegm 
  • Provide sugarless cough drops to soothe the smoker’s throat. 
  • Encourage him or her to drink lots of water, to flush out the poisons still in the body. 
 Tingling sensation in hands and feet 
  • Assure him or her that this is temporary and will go away in no time. 
  • Buy him or her a small rubber ball of a soft toy to squeeze or play with. 
  • Encourage him or her to relax using simple techniques such as deep breathing, massaging or stretching exercises. 
  • Exercise regularly with him or her to relieve stress as an alternative to smoking.

Use this information and try to influence him or her such that over time his or her dislikes would outweigh the likes. 

Find out what could be preventing him or her from making the commitment and help him or her to remove that barrier. 

"I think I am ready to quit!"

To help, you can:
  • Choose a date to start the quit process together with the smoker.
  • That date will be the Quit Date.
  • It may be a meaningful date in your relationship e.g. wedding anniversary or birthday etc.
  • You might want to avoid stressful periods where the smoker may have to cope with many things (in work or in life).
  • Select a Quit Method together with the smoker.
  • There are numerous methods to quit and the smoker should select the method that is most comfortable to him or her.
  • Identify reasons and situations when he or she smokes. For example, after a meal, walking home or reading the newspaper. Work together to come up with coping strategies in these situations.
  • Coping methods can include:
    1. Planning activities for both of you to do together to distract the smoker from smoking.
    2. Going to places and doing things where smoking does not fit in — swimming, jogging, brisk walking or shopping.
  • Be supportive of the changes he or she may make to his or her lifestyle.
  • He or she may become more easily irritable during this period so try to be understanding and supportive.
    1. Help him or her throw away all tobacco–related products.
    2. Encourage the smoker to talk about his or her feelings and then listen to what he or she says. Give your full attention.
    3. Encourage him or her to call QuitLine 1800 438 2000^ for personalised help to quit smoking.
    4. Encourage him or her to sign up for the I Quit Programme

"I am quitting now."

To help, you can:
  • Be supportive and understanding.
    1. As many smokers experience withdrawal symptoms during the first few weeks after they quit and may become easily irritable.
    2. Constantly remind him or her that the withdrawal symptoms will soon pass and be tolerant.
    3. If necessary, encourage him or her to see a doctor or pharmacist for quit smoking aids.
  • Prepare low–calorie healthy snacks for the smoker to munch on in place of smoking cigarettes.
  • Plan activities for both of you to do together to avoid temptations to smoke.
  • Offer to do things together where smoking does not fit in — swimming, jogging, brisk walking or shopping.
  • Introduce relaxation techniques as new ways to cope with stress.
  • Attend a quit smoking clinic together. Face–to–face quit consultations will significantly increase his or her chance of staying smoke–free for good.
  • Encourage him or her to call QuitLine 1800 438 2000^ for personalised encouragement.
  • Encourage him or her to sign up for the I Quit Programme
  • Celebrate together each week or month he or she has stayed smoke–free!

"I have already quit, but sometimes I will still feel the urge to smoke."

To help, you can:
  • Remind him or her of his or her reasons for stopping smoking.
  • Encourage him or her to be strong and raise his or her morale by recounting the hurdles he or she has passed to get to this stage.
  • Remember, just one cigarette will get the ex-smoker hooked again!
  • Take this opportunity to start doing new activities together such as rollerblading, jogging or cooking.
  • Get the ex-smoker to share his or her success story with other smokers who want to quit as well. This helps enhance the ex–smoker's pride for having quit smoking.
  • Prepare healthy and tasty meals at home and make healthy snacks easily available.
  • Encourage him or her to call QuitLine 1800 438 2000^ if they need personalised encouragement to stay smoke–free.
  • Continue to celebrate together each month that he or she has stayed smoke–free!

Resources for Quitting Smoking

Join the I Quit Programme and remain smoke free for 28 days and you are 5 times more likely to quit smoking. You can nominate your loved ones as a supporter when you sign up for the programme. Validate your smoke-free status and redeem a HPB eVoucher* worth $50 at the 28th day milestone. Keep going and you'll also receive eVouchers* worth $30 and $20 at the 3rd month and 6th month milestone respectively!

*Terms and conditions apply. 

^Kindly note that airtime charges apply for mobile calls to 1800 service lines and calls are free of charge only if made from regular land lines.

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