Why We Need Help to Quit Smoking

You probably know someone who smokes — a good friend, or perhaps a loved one — and wonder why he or she won’t stop. Well, fighting the urge to smoke and quit smoking for good isn’t easy; it isn’t simply a matter of being determined to stop and throwing those cigarettes away.

In fact, most smokers try to set a quit date and quit many times before they actually manage to kick the habit permanently.

That’s why anyone trying to quit needs as much help and support as possible, and you can help and encourage them.

Help Someone Take the First Step to Quit Smoking

Every smoker has a different reason for smoking. So how can you help him or her quit? Here’s a 4-step guide.

Step 1: Understand why someone smokes

Step 2: Use a positive tone

Step 3: Select an appropriate time to bring up the topic

Step 4: Gauge the smoker’s attitude towards smoking and offer help accordingly

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 a positive tone

Do NOT nag, scold, threaten or preach because these do not work! This would only make the smoker defensive and turn him or her off. Always use a positive tone.

Step 3: Select an appropriate time to bring up the topic

Find the right time to bring up the topic — one when the smoker will be most receptive. This is usually when he or she is feeling relaxed and comfortable. Your non-judgmental support and encouragement at the right time will work best. Some examples include — over a meal, chilling-out, an evening walk.

Do NOT choose a time when the smoker is stressed, tired or in a hurry, as your efforts may backfire.

Step 4: Gauge the smoker’s attitude towards smoking and offer help accordingly

One good way to gauge a smoker’s attitude is to ask if he or she has thought about quitting, then plan your net move. Generally, there are 3 stages smokers fall into.

Stage 1 (Satisfied smoker): Not thinking about quitting or tried quitting before but not interested to try again

What to do to offer help?

  • 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.

Stage 2 (Undecided smoker): Thinking about quitting soon

What to do to offer help?

  • 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.

Why Do People Smoke?

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. 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-calories 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.

Stage 3 (Ready-to-quit-smoker): Willing to take action to quit or already taking steps to quit.

What to do to offer help?

  • Provide encouragement

One way is to help the smoker enroll in a smoking cessation course where trained counsellors are on hand to help him or her plan the quit journey.

  • Guide gently

If the smoker is not keen to talk to a smoking cessation advisor, use a personal smoke-free planner as a guide to taking the steps to his or her quit journey. Discuss the various quit methods together such as cold turkey and nicotine replacement therapy.

Remember, it’s not easy to quit. Be patient and give constant encouragement to help the smoker succeed.

If you need more information to help your loved one or friend, feel free to call the counsellors at QuitLine
1800-438-2000 for free advice and tips.

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.

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