Helping someone give up smoking

When someone decides to give up smoking it can be a real boost to have extra help and support from their friends and family. Yes, that means you.

Someone stubbing out a cigarette

Help them put out their habit

Tempting as it is to persuade those closest to you to give up smoking, they have a much better chance of success if they’ve made the decision themselves. So wait until they’re ready to quit, and then make sure you’re ready to help them if they need it.

Offering your help and support

Most quitters take several attempts to give up, so prepare yourself for what could be a long-haul. Once you’re sure you want to help, establish that they want you to as well – wading in where you’re not wanted is never a good idea. “Some people like support and some like to do it on their own,” says Quit counsellor Liz Hine.

How can you help?

So, everyone’s happy for you to help out. Next step: make yourself as available as possible. Send them supportive texts and be ready to meet up, or talk on the phone or online if they need it. “It’s really important for non-smokers to be as supportive as they can if they’re trying to help someone quit,” says Stop Smoking Advisor Vishnee Sauntoo. “It’s not about telling them it’s really easy to do; it’s about being understanding and supportive.” This requires understanding and patience, so:

  • Try to avoid dishing out your advice on how they should be doing things unless they’ve asked for it.
  • Don’t forget that they’re in charge of quitting so they make the decisions.
  • Remind them of the benefits of quitting, such as feeling fitter and richer, but don’t nag or lecture.
  • Ask questions and listen to their answers – talking can be a huge release for someone who is quitting.
  • On the other hand, they may have times when they want to shut themselves away. Accept that this is part of the process and not a personal rejection. Enjoy the ‘time off’ and be ready to be there when they need you again.

Dealing with mood swings and relapses

All those cravings and withdrawal symptoms can lead to some shocking mood swings. Be prepared to be at the wrong end of these for a while, reminding yourself that they will come to an end eventually. “Don’t take it personally if someone’s having a moody moment – it’s probably because they’re trying to beat their craving,” says Vishnee.

According to Vishnee, cravings only last for up to five minutes, so using a distraction can often take their mind off it. “Try going out for a walk to get some fresh air – exercise can be a real help – or offering them a drink of water. Once they get over that period of time they’re able to move onto the next stage and carry on with the day.”

Get involved

Helping someone quit smoking doesn’t just mean offering moral support from the sidelines. There are plenty of ways for you to be actively involved:

  • Give up something of your own – this will take some of the focus away from your friend’s endeavour, as well as adding a bit of competition. If you’re doing well it’s harder for them to cave in.
  • Often, visits to a stop smoking service or a call to a helpline can be part of giving up. Your friend may appreciate someone going along or being there when they make the call, so offer to be that person.
  • Organise activities/nights out. Show them that giving up smoking doesn’t mean life is boring; nights out don’t have to revolve around cigarettes.

When you’re a smoker

You may still smoke, but you can still be supportive. “Smokers don’t like others leaving the fold, so they try to entice people back by offering them cigarettes,” says Liz. Try to put your own needs aside and remember how hard it is for the person who’s trying to quit. You may think you’re being generous by dishing out cigarettes, but it’s not helpful to them in the long-term.

“You could also decide to give up together and buddy up to support each other,” suggests Liz. “This can be a really helpful way of quitting because you can be there for each other on email and in social situations.”

Reward them

No matter how small the achievement, make sure you give them regular rewards. Even verbal rewards, like saying well done when they’ve got through the first day, can give them a massive boost.

“One of the things we recommend is incentivising them and giving them something to look forward to,” says Vishnee. “For example, offer to buy them dinner if they quit for a week.” That way, you both get to enjoy the fact that they’re giving up.

Photo of cigarette stub by Morgan

Next Steps

  • NHS Smokefree offers all sorts of advice and support to help you quit smoking.
  • Use the NHS smoking calculator to see how much your habit is costing you.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


Updated on 29-Sep-2015