Help me help him quit!
September 15, 2009 11:58 AM   Subscribe

SmokeFreeFilter: My partner has decided to give up smoking (yay!) in a few weeks' time. What can I do to help him?

So far I've thought of some rewards for when he's not smoked for various arbitrary lengths of time (a day, week, month, etc.) and apart from that mostly just feeding him nice food and being naked a lot.

Have any of you helped a loved one through this? How did you keep them on the road and deal with their moods?

If any of you has given up smoking (well done!), how did your partner or friends help you through?

Possibly more importantly, what are irritating and/or counterproductive things that I should avoid doing?

Wish me and my brave man luck!
posted by teraspawn to Human Relations (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I wish you the absolute BEST of luck. There are some things that are difficult to do, but that is one of the most difficult.

The "rewards" that you mention sound like the right idea. You need to keep in mind that everyone is different. One person might want to celebrate each of those milestones, someone else may want to cruise on through without noticing the time span. There is no one answer to quitting the habit. Be supportive of mood swings and angst.

Follow his lead, he may or may not want to talk about it.

Next month will mark my tenth anniversary of quitting! I smoked my last cigarette on Halloween 1999. Of course, having two heart attacks six days apart a month later kinda closed the deal for me. I don't recommend it if you can avoid it.
posted by Drasher at 12:11 PM on September 15, 2009

Don't make him feel guilty when/if he fails. That starts this whole cycle of hiding when you smoke which gives makes the smoking just that more satisfying. If/when he fails, don't say "I'm disappointed/I wish you hadn't done that/shame on you/why why why?". Just say "how can I help you get back on track?" or some variation on that. Be supportive and stay in step with him. Don't make him feel like he has failed if he messes up, because that just feeds the desire to smoke.
posted by greta simone at 12:15 PM on September 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Congratulations to your man for deciding to be smoke free.

One question I have is why in a few weeks' time? Why not now? I'm in the middle of quitting, and one of the biggest stumbling blocks has been "Oh, I'll quit at X date." Putting it off to a future date is the easiest way to not quit.

The other main things I would say is that to make sure that he is doing it for himself, and not you, not his doctor, not his family, but only for himself. This is not to say that he shouldn't see that one of the major benefits of quitting smoking is that you and his loved ones will be happier. It is to say that his own resolve is the only thing that will make him quit.

Also, if possible, he should remove himself from all situations where he used to smoke. If there is a bar that he used to go to and smoke, try to avoid that for a few weeks/months. If there are a group of friends he used to smoke with... that will be tougher to deal with, but he needs to develop a strategy for not smoking in that situation.

Other than that, food and naked time are great rewards. But, also if he starts to get antsy or crabby, take it in stride, find something to do to keep his mind off the smoking. He should get a hobby, and sublimate, sublimate, sublimate that desire to smoke. Pour that anxiety into something productive.
posted by baxter_ilion at 12:16 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

About a month in, he may well be the biggest dick you've ever met in your life. No matter how obnoxious he is, please don't say, "Jeezus, I wish you'd just start smoking again." It's really, really hard to quit.

It's hard to break patterns you've had for years, and it does make you unbearably AWFUL for a while. But man, nothing is more discouraging than having people get sick of the struggle and wish you back on the drug, and it happens a lot.

Five years this year for me!
posted by headspace at 12:20 PM on September 15, 2009

Good luck to the both of you. And congrats to him for making this decision.

Mr. Shotglass helped tremendously when I was quitting smoking. During the day at my designated smoke break times I would call him and whine and complain like a little girl about how much I wanted to smoke. I'd blame him for my suffering because I was "quitting for him." I'm sure I was not a pleasant person to talk to. And he took it all without complaints and constantly encouraged me.

I'd ask him for reasons why I shouldn't smoke right that second. And he'd give me all these reasonable answers. So maybe you could start a list like that. "Because you'll live longer, and we'll get to spend more time together" was a good one. And if your future plans include reproducing with this guy, you can tell him that it's better to quit now because if you try to quit when the baby comes it will be too much stress.

The biggest help to me during the quitting smoking process was removing myself from the places and situations that trigger the habit. I told all my smoking friends at work that I quit and they were by no reason to ask me to go out during a break or let me bum a smoke. And I would ask and plead and they never let me get back into it. I also started carpooling with a non-smoker so I stopped craving while I drove. Do what you can to prevent him from finding himself in situations where he'd normally smoke.

I had also prize incentives; once I quit smoking for a substantial amount of time and saved up enough money, we could get a dog. And I wanted one bad. I figured I could give $75 a month to the Marlboro corporation or put money towards a fund for this little guy. Completely totally worth it.

The Easy Way to Quit Smoking by Allen Carr was also pretty good as far as self help books go. I never tried the gum, but I did buy a box of it and left it on my TV. I'd stare at it when I wanted to smoke and remember that if I didn't use it, I could return it and get my $40 back.

This Halloween will mark 3 smoke free years for me.
posted by mrsshotglass at 12:28 PM on September 15, 2009

Dasher, Halloween was my quit date too! I had the most horribly painful emergency dental surgery that day and they told me it would hurt more if I smoked. I figured I wasn't going to smoke for 2 weeks, might as well make it permanent.
posted by mrsshotglass at 12:31 PM on September 15, 2009

One question I have is why in a few weeks' time? Why not now? I'm in the middle of quitting, and one of the biggest stumbling blocks has been "Oh, I'll quit at X date." Putting it off to a future date is the easiest way to not quit.

My experience quitting smoking was tough, but it helped to set a quit date a few weeks out, when a lot of factors came together at that time to help me quit (traveling, spending time with my folks, who hated the fact that I smoked). Also I needed time to let go and grieve and prepare for the fact that I was REALLY going to do it this time. Give him the time to get there emotionally.

Also, nthing that he's going to be a right bastard for a bit. If he falls off the wagon and has a smoke or two, sympathize with him and encourage him, don't get on him. Hopefully, he can move past it. Badgering him about it will just make it worse. Be his biggest cheerleader.

Good luck to him!
posted by Spyder's Game at 12:33 PM on September 15, 2009

My partner smoked for 25 years, and had a rough time quitting (20 years ago), but said that cinnamon sticks made a HUGE difference for him.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:33 PM on September 15, 2009

Seconding Allen Carr's Easy Way recommendation. I quit a 2+ packs-per-day habit cold turkey with that book. That was nearly four years ago.

The best thing my husband did for me was to leave me alone and not talk about smoking/not smoking/milestones/cigarettes. And above all, he never, ever, ever, ever, ever offered to go get me a pack, and he never agreed to do it even if I begged (which only happened once). He just shrugged and said, "Do what you want." He really forced me to understand that it was my choice to quit (or not) and he would have no part in enabling me anymore.

He also let me vent when I needed to but otherwise he left it alone. And by the time I'd quit a month I knew it was forever, and then it was okay to talk about it more and marvel at the fact that my clothes, hands, hair, apartment, and even cats no longer reeked of burnt tobacco and tar.
posted by balls at 12:35 PM on September 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

It's nice to have an alternative "displacement activity" to grab instead of reaching for a smoke - my dad used sugared almonds, but probably anything to go in the mouth is good.

I quit 20 years ago, but I had to practice quitting several times (e.g. quit for a week, quit for a month) before doing it for real. It improved finances, and I smelled better, but the best reward was the improvement in my overall health.
posted by anadem at 12:38 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have him promise you and the people he respects the most (his parents, siblings, friends, etc.) that he won't be smoking again. Such a commitment to others who are important to him, as simple as it may seem, will help him stick to a difficult decision.
posted by halogen at 12:44 PM on September 15, 2009

Thirding Carr's Easy Way. It reads like self-help pablum, but it's actually exactly what a person needs to quit for himself or herself--not for any other reason--which has to be the single most effective way to beat addiction.

Also, what greta simone said. Guilt is really not a great motivator, especially when the addiction is often used as a way to try to escape negative or stressful emotions. Maintaining a positive attitude about a future (and present) without drugs is the key.

Good question, and good luck to both of you!
posted by torticat at 12:47 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest asking him directly what you can do to help, and what you can not do to help. People's needs and irritants are pretty individual. If you make a deal on it beforehand, it makes a world of difference. If it has been agreed upon that your encouragement/reminders/whatever are what he has asked you to do, he's less likely to consider it nagging or pressure down the road, when he's a lot more irritable. And it means that you are helping him in the most effective way for him.
posted by moira at 12:48 PM on September 15, 2009

Physically, you're done in three days. Nicotine clears the system quickly. (I quit cold turkey, no patch or pills or gum or anything. I just quit.)

Behaviorally, it's more of a bitch. You have endless triggers for when-to-smoke.

Get up, light up.
Finish eating, light up.
Stop at a red light, light up.
Get pissed off, light up.
Order a beer, light up.
Walk outside after work, light up.
Commercial break in your TV show, light up.

Right before I quit, I was smoking two packs a day, which is forty cigarettes per day. There isn't much else that you DO forty times a day. You don't eat forty times a day or have sex forty times a day or start your car forty times a day or shave forty times a day or (for most people) answer the phone forty times a day. Smoking is a very, very repetitive action and nonsmokers have trouble understanding how deeply it gets woven into the fabric of your days.

When I reprogrammed my world to a non-smoking one, it took me about six months to damp down the urges, the rote behaviors. The first half of that I spent trying to find *something* to do with my hands. I also went through an unbelieveable amount of peppermint flavored sugar-free gum. (Cheaper than the nicotine replacement stuff, which I thought was way too expensive.) I'd been smoking since I was thirteen so had just about twenty years of tracks worn in my head for smoking behaviors. Getting out of those tracks was not easy or fast.

After the first year or so, it got a lot easier. Cigarette smoke stopped smelling good (like a faint whiff of the stuff blowing across a parking lot) by the time I hit two or three years quit. I don't think about it much at all these days -- entire months go by without smoking ever crossing my mind.

Early on, it's useful to have things to do, things to distract, things to occupy fidgety hands and a fairly short temper. Hard candy, peppermint gum, celery sticks, chewable (bic) plastic pens... clean house, do dishes, clean out closets, reorganize spice rack, inventory freezer, alphabetize bookshelves or CD collection, sort out the garage. Bake cookies and give 'em away. I taught myself to knit. Occupy, occupy, occupy. Some folks take up exercise with great success.

Tell your partner I wish him the best and that it can be done. I quit in early 2003, so six (and a half) years for me.
posted by which_chick at 12:52 PM on September 15, 2009 [5 favorites]

Horehound drops can provide an effective oral stimulative replacement as well as provide a modicum of medicinal relief to help heal the lungs. They're cheap and quite tasty. My dad used them when he quit smoking back in the early sixties (along with lemon drops and root beer barrels).
posted by torquemaniac at 1:05 PM on September 15, 2009

No doubt Nthing some stuff above, but the first thing he needs to do is to do it for himself, not you, his <favorite relative>, or anyone else.

For my part, I was a grumpy son-of-a-bitch every time I tried. Once I hit 40, I was able to quit for real--3+ years and counting with only a couple of post-too-many-beer slips to know I'm human. Prior (impermanent) solutions included Nicorette and a Labor Day weekend spent in the hospital due to heart attack fears that turned out to be esophagial (sp?) irritation, patches since before they were widely available, and post-separation/pre-divorce stress. (Hey, if you can't eat, can't sleep, and have completely zero libido, nicotine apparently becomes the least of your worries. Even the baseboards were clean, though.)

Most of what my (new, improved, and happily still current) wife (and other family) did during those final days was stay the hell out of the way from the grumpiness and general assholery (called "irritability" in the quit-smoke literature). Best of luck all around. Love the guy regardless.
posted by phrits at 1:06 PM on September 15, 2009

Be prepared for failure - that's when support is most important. Quitting, in my experience, takes more than one attempt. One of the most important aspects of quitting is how you handle the (near inevitable) relapse. There is a tendency among smokers to have a slip-up, sneak a cigarette, and then wallow in an "I'm such a failure" funk that allows much more smoking. The key to success in my experience is how you handle the falling-off-the-wagon episodes -- yes you had a cigarette or two, now get back to quitting!
posted by Mid at 1:07 PM on September 15, 2009

I haven't read every single comment above, so sorry if repeating.

About 2 weeks after I quit I had a burger for dinner. It wasn't a particularly special burger - just something I cooked at home one evening. I remember eating it and realizing my taste buds were back because to this day that was the best damn burger I've ever had. I suggest giving him similar culinary opportunities.

Also, it's amazing to see how your capacity for exercise increases over time after you quit. Maybe you could start an exercise program together so he can feel his body getting healthier? It would also be a good way to relieve some of the stress in his life that he will now not know how to deal with.

Also, avoid activities that include drinking as much as possible for a while. Especially if you live in a state where people can smoke in bars.
posted by sickinthehead at 1:22 PM on September 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Some excellent advice above -- the only thing I would add is that if the two of you like to watch movies together, steer clear for now of older movies, noir classics, or anything that's likely to have scenes with characters smoking. When my boyfriend and I first quit, we made the mistake of watching an old Bogart and Bacall film, and by the halfway mark we were both whimpering and trying to hold each other back from bolting to the corner store for a pack of smokes.
posted by Kat Allison at 1:32 PM on September 15, 2009

First you should ask him if he wants the encouragement. Personally I don't want to be reminded of smoking AT ALL. Don't congratulate me, don't ask me how it's going, don't encourage, nothing. I have to pretend that smoking doesn't exist and that I was never a smoker. I usually don't even tell anyone I've quit until I've got at least a week under my belt so that I don't get disappointed looks and comments when I relapse. :P

Kat Allison has it right about old movies. Avoid like the plague. Also (sadly) avoid Mad Men. It killed me to watch it last night!

I am a pack-a-day smoker who quit on June 30th, smoked a pack on July 17th, smoked a pack on August 1st, and then took it up again with gusto about a week later. I quit again Tuesday, and then relapsed this weekend where I smoked a pack over the course of the weekend. I absolutely cannot relapse again - I'm having surgery in 9 days.

I think what I'm trying to get at is relapses happen. He needs to be prepared for failure and he can't let it get him down - and you can't scold him or be disappointed in him either. Smokers usually have a ton of unsuccessful attempts before they actually quit for real. I've quit at least a dozen times in the past two years. The longest I've gone without smoking is probably six months. He just needs to keep trying - one day it'll actually stick.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:25 PM on September 15, 2009

I quit over a year ago, using the gum. For me, reminding myself that I couldn't have even one cigarette was huge - sort of like how they tell recovering alcoholics that they can't have "just one." There's no such thing as "just one," and all my previous (unsuccessful) attempts were sabotaged when I fooled myself into thinking that I could have a puff or two. A single puff sets you back to square one.

Just don't take it personally if he gets testy with you. Your idea about cooking him special meals is spot on! Encourage him to join you for a run or a walk or what have you, too - exercise helps a lot.

Remind him that a craving isn't an endless thing - it is finite, and usually lasts a minute or two. Encourage him to tell you when he's really craving a smoke, and help him get through the craving.

Good luck to you both! Becoming a nonsmoker is one of the best things I've ever done.
posted by meggie78 at 2:40 PM on September 15, 2009

More than anything, be aware that he's going to be no fun to be around for a while, and it's really nothing personal. I don't think non smokers can ever understand how freaking hard it is to quit. And what people said above about failing: my unscientific observation of many friends and colleagues who finally quit is that everyone fell off the wagon at least twice or three times before getting on board for good. (Then again, if he's around your age, it might not be as bad for him as someone who's smoked for 20 or 30 years.)

Also, as hard as you can, argue against any effort of his to convince you that he can try having "just one." You can't. The drunks have it right: you simply can never touch the stuff again. At first, that seems like a tragedy. But not for long.
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:46 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Look, yeah, check with him if he wants you to cheerlead him or not, or give rewards. I think the biggest thing you can do is not take it personally when his moods change, and he says hurtful mean things, for the first month. Just smile, grit your teeth and walk out of the room. Don't buy into an argument, because, for a new quitter, that can be the perfect excuse to have a cigarette.

There's a long running quit smoking site out there,, and if he's into sunshine enemas as well as good advice, that will be very helpful, in fact, I would strongly encourage him to get as much information as possible (if it suits him, and it doesn't suit all quitters) on both the effects of smoking, and most efficacious quitting means. Don't push him. Just say once, oh, there's a lot of information on quitting on the web, if you're interested.

(I quit 4 times a year for 10 years, and have been properly quit now for 3.5 years. Ran a quit smoking forum - ironically, the server caught fire. My husband also quit a number of times and has been quit for 8 years so I've seen it from both sides.)
posted by b33j at 2:52 PM on September 15, 2009

Encourage him to use nicotine replacement if he is not (I think the patch is the best but that's just my personal experience). The statistics on how this improves the chances of succeeding are pretty compelling.

When he is irritable (and it will happen) remember that there is the equivalent of a nasty imp poking him in the back of the neck with a needle over and over again. It's hard to think about much else in the early days and it's irritating. Bouts of depression, anxiety, and difficult concentrating are common. Be the biggest and nicest person you can during this period.

Try not to bring it up if he doesn't. It's a bummer to be reminded of it if you have gotten your mind off it for a while. Conversely, early in he may want to blab about it to an annoying degree. Let him.

Honestly there is not a whole lot you can do other than putting up with his ups and downs and being nice and letting him know you're proud of what he's accomplishing. As others have said try not to take it to hard or be hard on him if he doesn't make it this time. Most people take a few serious attempts to get it.
posted by nanojath at 3:05 PM on September 15, 2009

I'd second those saying don't do anything special for a while. At least until your partner is well onto the way to being quit. When you are stopping smoking every old reminder that you smoked is a real pain (all those smoking ads suddenly jump out at you) and you really want as few as possible. Thats why you see advice on quitting while you are on holiday because it's a situation out of your real life - I quit for the last time soon after a house move/new job.

And be prepared for multiple quitting failures/re-attempts and grumpiness.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:11 PM on September 15, 2009

Oh yeah, and the Allan Carr book.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:12 PM on September 15, 2009


worked wonders when I stopped...after about a week of seeing how much I saved, I realized what a fool I would be to start again...

I plugged in my numbers just far, I've saved $25,569.50

and, as others have said, help him avoid the triggers...they are more powerful than the addiction.
posted by HuronBob at 3:43 PM on September 15, 2009

nthing the Easy Way book. You need to get him to agree to read x number of pages a day, and help him do that. Wellbutrin may help as well.
posted by xammerboy at 4:04 PM on September 15, 2009

Cigarettes are amazing -- if you take shorter drags, lighter inhalations, it tends to amp you up some; deep slow drags, lung-fillers, are calming, give that pensive thing, the ease. It's a drug, for sure, and as any drug addiction it has it's rituals -- first thing in the morning, every cup of coffee, after sex for sure, on the drive home from work, etc and etc -- and accoutrement -- I had a nice lighter, a nice cigarette case, heavy glass ashtrays, on and on. It's not just a habit, it's a mindset.

And it's damn sure an addiction -- I've known many junkies who've cleaned up who just cannot set down cigarettes, same thing with sober alcoholics; these people have beaten the odds against drugs and/or alcohol for years, decades sometimes, but just cannot set down cigarettes. It's difficult at best.

I don't know that you can do anything to help him, really, that you'd not do anyways for someone you love going through a huge and difficult transition. It's his deal. And, as others have pointed out upthread, it's his deal if he smokes again; I guess one thing you can do to help him is not get attached to him quitting or not, so as to not get upset/disappointed if/when he should slip. You love him -- him -- not him only if he's not smoking, only if he lives to his ideal, which may have become your ideal, too, if you get attached to it.

If he has any type of working faith, you can gently remind him to lean upon it and into it. Notice I said working faith ie not just "I was born catholic so I'm catholic" but rather an active prayer life / meditation practice / etc and etc. I hesitate to put that here on the green or on the blue because it's oh so politically incorrect here, there is so much charged energy around faith, and it's damn sure easy to look like a buffoon. Which I've considerable experience at in any case.

But facts are facts: I'd never have been able to set them down, much less leave them lying, had I not leaned into my meditation practice and into my prayer life. I'm not saying Jesus or Buddha or Leviticus or Moses or Hosea or any of those mopes, I'm saying whatever it is that works for your sweetie; could be any or all or none of the above. For me, it's whatever it is that makes grass grow through concrete, that life force thing, I don't understand it but I don't have to, just seems that it's important that I lean into it. If he's got something like this, remind him it's there if/when he's overwhelmed.

You might see him cry; that's what's behind all the bitchiness mentioned above, all the left-handed moods people go through, or maybe it's not what's behind it but it can come out anyways. We're raw as hell, vulnerable. He may be the manliest man of all, he might eat broken glass and iron ore and shit steaming diamonds and razor blades, might be Tarzan swinging through the trees and wrestling alligators and beating on his chest while howling his strength and pride yet find himself crying at some lame-assed movie or his high-school yearbook or laying in your arms after love. Don't jerk back from him just because he's a pantywaist; we all are sometimes in some places. Kiss him if he'll let you, and he may not -- he's vulnerable and maybe not used to it.

Careful with the food. No kidding. I was 29 when I quit, I'd never carried one ounce of fat on my body in my life, and that is a fact. I was astonished to find that my clothing began to get snug and then tight in short order -- I'm like wtf ?!? Only after I stopped smoking did I start running and start being more serious about looking at what I was eating.

That whole thing was a revelation to me, a door opening into a piece of life I'd never, ever seen, my whole life I'd lived on my fathers side of the genetic tree w/regard to body type, not skinny but trim and fit, only after I set them down did I begin to live on the maternal side of that tree, only then did I begin to need to actually plan being trim.

There is so much going on behind cigarettes, maybe not for everyone but there definitely was for me.

Love him. You do already, or you'd not be asking this question.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:44 PM on September 15, 2009

Prepare to tolerate moodiness and crankiness. dancestoblue has it right on.
posted by variella at 7:54 PM on September 15, 2009

There are umpteen wacky quit-smoking gadgets - electronic cigarettes that actually administer a metered dose of nicotine, cigarette-shaped flavoured inhaler doodads that let you do part of the physical ritual without any nicotine at all, and the list goes on.

(Digression: The documentary "Search for a Safe Cigarette" is quite interesting.)

A lot of these devices are hard to find and/or rather expensive, but I've noticed that super-cheap Hong Kong PayPal-only free-worldwide-delivery crapvendors DealExtreme now have a variety of "e-cigarettes" and imitation smokes in this section
(that's not an affiliate link). They've been selling the stuff long enough for some user reviews to have piled up, too. (There's even an electronic cigar, here!)

Quit-smoking stuff from random Chinese manufacturers may not be very good for you, of course, but even if it's got lead paint on it or something, I think it's still likely to be a lot less toxic than real cigarettes.
posted by dansdata at 8:08 PM on September 15, 2009

Offer to give him an awesome blow job at the end of each day he goes without a cigarette for the first X days (however long you think is necessary to break the addiction).
posted by Jacqueline at 9:01 PM on September 15, 2009

Chocolate. I'm not kidding. When he gets really bad cravings, give him a piece of chocolate. It may make him fat but it's easier to quit.

I can't explain why this works, but for me it hit a lot of the same buttons as a cigarette.
posted by vanar sena at 10:38 PM on September 15, 2009

I should add that I tried quitting several times and finally successfully did it only by abusing the heck out of nicotine gum. I decided that overdoing the gum was much better than smoking, and I chewed the gum basically non-stop for close to a year. I became completely addicted to the gum and craved it all the time, but this helped me immeasurably in breaking my smoking routines. After that, I was able to wean myself off the gum the way that others can wean themselves off of cigarettes. This is completely contrary to the instructions, dosage, etc., but it worked.
posted by Mid at 6:44 PM on September 16, 2009

« Older Can we get to our money?   |   Filezilla for Panther for an idiot Mac User? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.