If you have a loved one who can’t or won’t stop smoking, you’re both in a difficult position, but it’s not hopeless. Smoking is an addiction, not unlike alcohol or other substance abuse. The addiction makes it very difficult for the addicted person to realize he has a problem in the first place, want to quit, and successfully kick the habit.
Just as with other addictions, your loved one has to first admit he has a problem. Once he recognizes that his smoking is a problem, he needs a successful plan and a supportive team in order to successfully quit.
You may have very valid objections to his smoking: you may have a baby, a compromised immune system, or allergies, or you just think it’s a gross habit. But these are your objections. The smoker needs to find his own internal motivations to outweigh the pleasure or benefits he experiences from smoking.
For instance, some people smoke to help calm down and manage stress. Others may have started smoking as an act of rebellion or “growing up” or to fit in with a group, and although they may have outgrown those reasons, subconsciously the memories remain. But ultimately, they still smoke because their bodies are now addicted. It will take not only willpower but possibly some medical intervention to help your loved one quit, if and when he decides to quit.
Helping your loved one want to quit
The decision to quit smoking is highly personal. Don’t shame, preach, tease, or shun your loved one because of his choice. If you have children or your own health issues, you have the right to insist that your loved one not smoke in your presence or the children’s presence, but you cannot demand that he change his lifestyle.
Believe in your loved one and always bear in mind that people who cannot stop smoking have both a physical and emotional addiction to it. If, for instance, your husband started smoking at age 15 as a sign of rebellion against overly-strict parents, your nagging will reinforce that negative subconscious memory and make him dig his psychological heels in even deeper. So try to be sensitive to these issues.
Try to talk to him calmly about it. Ask him if he sees smoking as a problem. Ask him what he thinks about all the medical evidence showing that smoking is a major factor in heart disease, stroke, cancer, lung disease, and premature aging. Ask him why he still smokes. Seek first to understand.
If you start by understanding where he’s coming from, you will then be able to present your concerns and objections in a more loving and less offending matter. You can tell him that, even if he is not concerned about the medical issues for himself, you’re sure he wouldn’t want his children to get tar in their lungs from his cigarette smoke, and he certainly wouldn’t want them to pick up the habit and risk their own health, just because they see their dad smoking. Tell him what a great example he would set for them if they see their father stop doing something that he enjoys out of love for them.
Tell him you want to have him with you for many years to come, as a living human being and not just a photo on the mantelpiece. Tell him you know he is strong and can quit if he wants to, and you’re there to help him when he’s ready. If you are sincere, this will give him a boost of confidence, and it puts the ball in his court to decide when he’s ready.
Finally, you may want to enlist the help of his physician. Cold statistics are not as convincing as a doctor in a white coat standing in front of him telling him, “Here’s your health condition, and this is where you’re heading if you don’t quit smoking. It won’t be pretty, and it will be very painful, a lot more painful than the temporary discomfort of quitting.”
If your loved one admits he would like to quit but there are certain situations in which he enjoys a cigarette, for instance, with his morning coffee and when he relaxes after work, ask him if he’d be willing to reduce his smoking to just those two times. An incremental cessation, though more difficult for some people, might work for him. Many people have successfully resisted the urge to smoke during the day by saying, “I’ll hold out until my evening cigarette.” Decreasing gradually can make it easier to quit eventually.
At BCHIP, we have an excellent, free smoking cessation program that has helped countless people overcome the habit. When your loved one seems open to a calm conversation about it, you can look through our program together, promise him he has your support, and ask him to talk to one of our experts to help him take the first steps towards a smoke-free life.