How to Help Someone You Love Quit Smoking

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When I was seven, I figured out how to get my dad to stop smoking. I gathered all his ashtrays and put them in the garbage.

You guessed it. My plan didn’t work. In fact, my Dad yelled at me and made me wash all of the ashtrays and put them back.

At that young age, I got the impression that his smoking was more important to him than me. Some years later, my dad died of complications from lung cancer.

Helping a loved one quit smoking is obviously a little more complicated than I had thought. But there’s actually a lot you can do. Here are four nag-free ways to help them along:

Sidestep the shame.

You may be ready for them to quit smoking, but you have to give them time to arrive at that decision for themselves. “Your loved one has to decide for themselves that they’re ready,” says Megan Piper, Ph.D., the associate director of research at the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention.

“We often fear what’s going to happen to our loved one because they’re smoking, and that fear can make us come across as pushy. Or, we may even give the smoker an ultimatum. Actually, doctors do that a lot as well,” says Kimberly L. Kjome, M.D., medical director of Seton Shoal Creek Hospital in Austin, Texas. But manipulating, shaming, or even threatening someone isn’t going to lead to permanent change. A smoker has to make up their own mind that they are going to stop. Their loved ones can’t make the decision for them.

Realize you can relate.

There may be a tendency to see your loved one’s addiction as something that you can’t relate to. Intellectually, you may understand that smoking’s a challenging habit to break—but you’re still wondering why they just won’t quit!

“It can be really hard when any of us tries to change our behavior,” says Kjome. “Like when someone tries to lose weight, or needs to consult a doctor because of high blood pressure. Maybe it helps to recognize that you’ve shared other kinds of concerns, pressures, or fears in your own life.” Even if you haven’t quit smoking, just remember that you’ve likely struggled with some other habit.

Be there.

Let your loved one know you’re there for them. Then allow them to decide how you can help. “That approach makes the smoker stop and think, Well, how could she help me? Do I want him not to talk about smoking unless I bring it up? Am I going to need help keeping busy?” says Piper. Hear them out, and then follow their lead.

Ask Questions.

Many smoking cessation coaches utilize a technique known as “the motivational interview,” explains Kjome. It’s a conversation in which you withhold judgment or advice and simply ask open questions that help your loved one assess their feelings and fears about stopping smoking. For example, you can ask, “What are your concerns about quitting smoking? What would make it worthwhile to you? What’s good about smoking that makes you want to continue, and what’s bad about it?”

“This technique gets your loved one invested in the positive things about quitting smoking,” says Kjome. Perhaps they’ll realize they do have a true desire to quit, but they’re afraid they’ll lose friends or won’t be able to handle stress. Identifying sticking points like these leads to discovering solutions.