How can I get someone to quit smoking?
June 22, 2010 10:14 AM   Subscribe

How can I get someone to quit smoking?

Someone close to me is a heavy smoker for years and I am concerned for his health.

What are some good ways to get him to quit smoking? I am open to all ideas.

In the past I have tried: repeated nagging for years, giving nicotine patches/gum
posted by abbat to Health & Fitness (40 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You can't force someone to quit -- they have to want to. And no, this doesn't mean that you should badger them with info and statistics, either, in a sort of awareness campaign effort to make them want to stop smoking.

Most people know about the dangers of smoking. Aside from telling the person that you love them and fear for their health, I don't think there's much you can do to cajole them.
posted by runningwithscissors at 10:19 AM on June 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Hate to break it to you, but you can't.

He will quit when he wants to. It's all on him.

Despite a ton of nagging, scare tactics (look! This is what it's doing to your body), pleading, death of a friend due to lung cancer, and a pet that died of lung difficulties due to their secondhand smoke.. my family member continues to smoke.
posted by royalsong at 10:19 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can't make someone stop smoking if they don't want to stop. And I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of smokers know it's bad for them, so nagging about their health won't make them quit and will probably make them angry at you.
posted by pecknpah at 10:20 AM on June 22, 2010

There is no way. Sorry, but it's the same as asking, "How can I get someone to stop drinking," or, "How can I get someone to stop doing drugs." The only way the person will stop is if they want to stop. You can nag, you can get the patches, you can give ultimatums, or make rules like "no smoking in the house." None will work until he decides he wants to quit.

So you need to decide what this means for you. If it's your significant other, is it a big enough deal that it will make you leave him? If it's a family member or friend, is it a big enough deal for you to cut off contact? Only you can answer these questions. You may want to try an Al-Anon meeting -- though they focus on drugs and alcohol, his addiction to smoking is basically the same thing, and going to some meetings might help you come to an understanding of what you can and cannot control.

(Ten years into our relationship, my husband started smoking. It was horrible and nearly destroyed our marriage because I am ultra-sensitive to the smoke. He eventually quit and I'm really grateful that he did. But he did it all, not me. And I did go through the stages of giving him patches, giving him ultimatums, nagging, etc.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:21 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

He will not stop until he wants to do it himself. He probably "knows" about the dangers but hasn't really internalized them yet. There's really nothing you can do to stop someone else from smoking, and it might damage your personal relationship with this person to push them about it.

What you CAN do is politely ask them to respect your wishes about smoking in your presence. Agree to meet at smoke-free restaurants; ask them not to smoke when they are inside your home or car. Pleas be respectful and polite about this. Many smokers I know feel angry that the laws of the "nanny state" are telling them what they can and can't do to themselves. You don't have to respect their habits, but you really should give them the respect for who they are as a person so they will hopefully do the same for you.
posted by Madamina at 10:22 AM on June 22, 2010

Unless he's exceptionally sheltered or has a disability that might make it difficult for him to understand the information, he's aware of the dangers of smoking.

Tell him one final time: "Hey, I'm going to stop being an asshole about this, but I still really want you to quit. I don't mean to treat you like you're too stupid to know better or that I'm too stupid to know how incredibly hard it is to quit. When you're ready to do it, I'm totally behind you and will do anything you need to help."

And then leave it alone until you're asked for help.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:23 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nurses in oncology wards- nurses who watch people die in agonizing pain from cancer every day- are often smokers. 23% admitted to having smoked in the past, 4.5% admitted to currently smoking. This is not a decision that can be made for someone else, and no amount of evidence, data, or nagging will work.
posted by jenkinsEar at 10:23 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

You can't "get" someone to quit smoking. If a person is going to stop, they have to do it entirely of their own volition, with their own reasons. Nagging is a good way to alienate the hell out of them and either have them snap at you or just stop speaking with you entirely. Seriously, I'm a smoker who has no intention of quitting and I can think of absolutely no reason to abide someone who seems to have it in their head that nagging me out of the habit is a good idea.

Giving them quitting substances won't work either; the smoking cessation method is very individual. For some people the gum tastes really awful, for others the patch gives them the shakes all the time.

Unless you're talking about a clueless teenager, a smoker knows exactly what they are doing to themselves. The younger you go, the more they know as the anti-smoking education is getting more and more dramatic, and clearer and clear (this is by no means a bad thing.) All you can do is encourage them and offer all the help you can if they want to quit, otherwise, stay out of their space w/r/t smoking. Especially if you're not a smoker yourself. I'll be damned before I take the advice of someone who isn't a medical professional and doesn't know the pure hell of withdrawal.
posted by griphus at 10:24 AM on June 22, 2010

I'm a former smoker. Quit several times, for a variety of reasons. Twice, it was to please another person. I no longer speak to the first one at all, and the only reason I speak to the second one is because we had a child while I was trying not to smoke (there is no causal link there).

What finally worked was me deciding that I wanted to, for a variety of reasons. He will not quit until he wants to, and he knows you hate it. You are not enough of a reason at the moment. Learn to live with that, or learn to live without him.
posted by Etrigan at 10:27 AM on June 22, 2010

The short answer is that you can't.

I'm afraid that this is one of those things that the person in question is the only person that can make that happen. If they're not interested in stopping the habit, you can't force it. And to be honest, despite the good-hearted source of nagging and cajoling it often just gets annoying and ends up being a detriment to your cause.

Hardly any smoker walks around these days believing that cigarettes are good for them or contributing to overall good health. It's a choice to engage in behavior that you don't like and the only thing you can do is adjust how you react to it.
posted by oreonax at 10:31 AM on June 22, 2010

Dude, if you could get someone to quit smoking, I suspect most of would make ourselves quit.

Really. Think it through. Do you think I don't know how much it costs, how bad it smells, or the disastrous effects on my health? Really?
posted by DarlingBri at 10:35 AM on June 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

As a nonsmoker who feels the same way about the smokers she loves, I feel your pain. I think one of the hardest parts is to sit back and do nothing, even though there's nothing you can really do to make things better (as evidenced by all the advice above).

I took the approach of saying to one smoking friend, "I'm not going to bug you about smoking, because I know that wouldn't help. But if you ever get an inkling that you would like to quit, please PLEASE lean on me for whatever support you need. I will call quit-smoking programs for info, I will take you out for ice cream or movies to distract you, and I will be your biggest cheerleader. And that's all I'm going to say about it, so don't forget." And I haven't brought it up since.

My friend still smokes, but I like to think that someday he might take me up on the offer. At the very least, it made me feel like I had done as much as I could to help, tiny as it was, so I could stop feeling guilty about my nonaction.
posted by vytae at 10:39 AM on June 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

If the person does not want to quit, then there is nothing you can do.

If the person is willing to try, then try chantix.
A prescription drug that worked great for me. I was a heavy smoker (1.5 packs a day for 20+ years). I tried several things, nothing worked. Tried chantix, and it was amazing. Worked really well for me.
posted by Flood at 10:41 AM on June 22, 2010

This must be very frustrating for you, but nagging will only serve to irritate, believe me. The only suggestion I have is that you buy them a copy of this book, ask them (gently) to read it, and then - just leave it. It's up to them.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 10:43 AM on June 22, 2010

As a smoker who has chafed at people making couched remarks, nothing you say will work no matter how subtle and incisive you think your newest tactic is. Smoking and wanting someone to quit are separated by a gulf as big as the connection between eating food and growing it. How effective at converting people to gardening do you think it would be to bring up growing food every time they eat? "Wow, you like food. You should grow some." "Have you started growing food yet?" "How can you just eat bought food like that, don't you know it would be much better tasting if you grew it yourself?" "Why are you still not gardening?"

The only thing I would say you can do is to start taking them hiking and exercising all the time.
posted by rhizome at 10:44 AM on June 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

nthing "You Can't".
My husband stopped for a few months when there was a slight lung cancer scare on my part, but it wasn't great for either of us and once it was over he slipped back into his usual habits. He's concerned for MY health, so he smokes outside, but absolutely will not change for his own and that's his choice to make.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:48 AM on June 22, 2010

I used to smoke heavily, and based on my personal experiences and conversations I had with other smokers, a lot of people want to quit but simply can't. Quitting was hell for me and I had several false starts along the way (technically, I still enjoy about a box of cigars a year, but I'm free of cigarettes and that's what I wanted to give up, so I feel that I've made it). You're not going to make any progress by harping on the health risks - every smoker I have spoken to, without exception, knew the dangers of smoking. They either didn't care, or felt that the tradeoff was worth it.

So don't harp - instead, offer to help this person quit.

Something along the lines of, "Hey, I don't want to nag you about smoking; it's your choice. But if you ever want to quit, I'll fund the effort and help you out" could work wonderfully. If you really care about this person, a few bucks here and there for their quitting supplies combined with moral support is a small cost to pay.
posted by Despondent_Monkey at 10:52 AM on June 22, 2010

Part of my job is project managing websites for a tobacco cessation program and have been exposed to a bunch of material on quitting tobacco. There are tons of resources available (including some free, state-sponsored programs), but the common thread in all of them is that the smoker has to do the work. They need to recognize their triggers for smoking, they need to plan strategies to cope with those triggers and for managing slips and relapses, they need to make a firm commitment to quitting and enlist the help of family and friends, etc.

None of that is anything that you can do for your friend--he needs to do that for himself. It's often an extremely difficult process and with out a strong commitment and emotional investment in quitting the process will most likely fail. Heck, it can fail even if a person has a strong commitment and emotional investment.

If you want to do something, you might want to research any state-funded cessation programs (the one I work with offers free NRT with phone coaching sessions, and we run the program for several states) and as others have said offer it as a resource to your friend and then let it go. I think setting boundaries to when/if your friend smokes around you as mentioned above is a great idea too.
posted by Kimberly at 11:18 AM on June 22, 2010

Give this person an incentive to quit that is so big it is almost insane not to quit. If you could, a $1mm if he quits in 2 months sort of thing.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:20 AM on June 22, 2010

Former smoker here, and yes, ultimately one has to want to quit for oneself. The thing that really helped me was Allen Carr's book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. Horribly written, cheesy as hell, but in some strange way it worked.

I can't explain why, really, and I had to read it twice, but really, it worked. Why not buy them a copy and ask them to read it? Won't cost them more than a couple hours of their time.

And no, I don't work for, nor am I, Allen Carr.
posted by hwickline at 11:36 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

As a former smoker, I'm going to jump on the "You Can't Make Someone Quit" wagon.
Not gonna happen. You'll only drive a wedge between the smoker and yourself. For someone to successfully quit smoking, it has to be something they determine for themselves and commit to for their own reasons.

However, Metafilter helped me quit smoking.
posted by Jon-o at 11:49 AM on June 22, 2010

Assuming the person wants to quit, one idea from this fantastic book on social psychology is to make a public declaration to all people they know, that he is going to quit smoking.

Might even sweeten the deal by telling them that he will pay them ten dollars (or more) if they catch him smoking.
posted by jasonhong at 11:52 AM on June 22, 2010

Nthing the Allen Carr book upthread and that you can't make someone stop smoking. Sorry.
posted by Elsie at 11:58 AM on June 22, 2010

Tell the person you love them, and want to help them save their own life. Ask if they want to quit, really want to. Ask how you can help. Tell them, in no uncertain terms how nasty it is to be near smoke, butts, and smoker's breath, clothes, etc. Deliver them the literature. Offer to help pay for hypnosis, and other stop smoking aids. When they complain about how hard it is, recognize and sympathize; it is an extremely difficult addiction to treat.

Things that help people quit: peer/social pressure. Hypnosis, nicotine gum, the patch, smoking cessation classes, exercise. But don't do any of this unless smoker agrees they truly want to quit, because they'll keep smoking. Even people who truly want to quit are often unable to, and people who don't truly want to quit, won't.

However, don't accept smoking as an acceptable practice, or enable a smoker. Peer pressure does help people stop, at least a little.
posted by theora55 at 12:13 PM on June 22, 2010

After my boyfriend had quit smoking and before I had, he began to refuse to kiss me until an hour and a toothbrushing after a cigarette. That helped push me over the edge from "I don't want to smoke any more, but quitting is hard" to "Fuck it I'm doing this." But if I'd not already been in the "I don't want to smoke any more" camp we probably would just have broken up instead, to be honest.
posted by KathrynT at 12:20 PM on June 22, 2010

You can't, but you can make him resent you by trying.

Be careful, and good luck. Hopefully he'll stop in his own time.
posted by InsanePenguin at 12:42 PM on June 22, 2010

If you have never been a regular smoker then it's easy to underestimate or dismiss just how addictive it can be. Many millions of dollars worth of research over many decades has gone into perfecting what is already a naturally addictive substance, making it as potent and nasty as possible. It burrows deep into the brain (figuratively) and doesn't let go. If you have never experienced this first hand then it might seem odd that someone would want to continue this gross habit that doesn't really seem to have many benefits. But trust me, they don't do it because they necessarily want to, they do it because their brain won't let them stop.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:45 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

A couple of years ago, I quit smoking after almost twenty years. I tried to quit after various family members died of cancer. It didn't take.

What did it take to make me really, really, 100% quit? My wife's pregnancy. It has to be something you decide and accomplish on your own. Nagging and influencing will not endear you to the smoker and may make them resent you.

When you've been a smoker for a long time, it is so much a part of you that to quit is to kill a little part of yourself, maybe a part that you liked.

One thing that helped me quit: Wintergreen Altoids. YMMV.
posted by Kafkaesque at 12:49 PM on June 22, 2010

I disagree with most of the answers. A person decides to quit smoking because they perceive the cost to be too high. Sometimes someone else can force the issue by raising the cost. On our third date, my husband told me he would not see me again if I continued to smoke. I liked him better than I liked cigarettes, so it was done. I'll never start again because the drama quotient would be way too high. Taxes have been very successful at reducing smoking rates because many people can't afford to smoke.

The tipping point will be different for each person, and it depends how much leverage you have. If you give them an ultimatum (I will never speak to you again unless you quit), you must be prepared for them to pick cigarettes over you.
posted by desjardins at 12:49 PM on June 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

A person decides to quit smoking because they perceive the cost to be too high. Sometimes someone else can force the issue by raising the cost. On our third date, my husband told me he would not see me again if I continued to smoke. I liked him better than I liked cigarettes, so it was done.

The difference being that your husband didn't keep trying it over and over again over the course of years, despite it not working. The OP says, "In the past I have tried: repeated nagging for years, giving nicotine patches/gum". That tells me that the friend simply does not want to quit, and nothing abbat can do at this point is going to do it. The smoker has made his cost-benefit measurement, and abbat ain't a big enough counterweight.
posted by Etrigan at 12:57 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can't.

I stopped the day i decided I wanted to; it's not like the 9723th nagger was the one that finally made me go, 'Oh gee whiz! I had no idea I should stop!"
posted by Windigo at 1:11 PM on June 22, 2010

I have smoked for over 40 years and have tried to quit many times without success. What is working for me now is e-cagarettes. You get nicotine and the feeling of smoking without the actual smoke and all the other dangerous chemicals in regular cigarettes. I have gone from smoking almost 2 packs a day to only smoking 3 or 4 cigarettes a day and I think that I am ready to quit completely. Tell your friend to read up on it. It is also much cheaper to smoke e-cigarettes that regular cigs and you can smoke in many places that you couldn't smoke a regular cig.
posted by cellar at 1:16 PM on June 22, 2010

Can you lock them away in a non-smoking environment for a significant period of time, without them being able to leave and/or access cigarettes? Oh, by the way, when they get out, if they haven't made the decision themselves, they will start smoking again, EVEN though they are past the rigours of a quit, the withdrawals, most of the cravings, etc. Ex-smoker from a family of smokers and ex-smokers. I'm sorry. You can't.
posted by b33j at 1:45 PM on June 22, 2010

It's true that you can't. Sorry.

As a former smoker (2 packs a day for 30+ years), I tried to quit dozens of times. I knew I should quit and had many failed attempts. People I loved died from smoking-related diseases; I still smoked. Finally, almost 8 years ago, I realized that I wanted to quit more than I wanted to smoke. It was that "simple."
posted by Linnee at 2:56 PM on June 22, 2010

Let them know that if they ever want to quit, you will be there for them and would be happy to help them in any way you can. I wish it was possible to get smokers to quit, but they tend to be quite stubborn, and many take concern as some kind of personal affront or judgment of their choices.
posted by ishotjr at 3:54 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some people will give those new cigarette substitute thingies a try, mainly because they can use them at their desks at work. And some people like novel gadgety things.
posted by meepmeow at 6:09 PM on June 22, 2010

I haven't read the thread, so please forgive me if I am repeating anyone.

1. Stop nagging. If nagging worked on this person it would have happened already. This person needs to feel as if the decision to quit is their choice and their idea. I think you should be very careful what you do from this point on, because I bet at this point any more input from anyone who nags them about it just makes them dig their heels in more.

2. Figure out why this person smokes. Is it to relieve stress? Is it to keep his weight down? Is it to have something to do with his hands? Is he a nervous person, and this calms his nerves? Is it because he associates it with partying and having a good time? It's probably a combo of a bunch of different things.

Without trying to take away the smoking, try to figure out other ways to help this person relieve these problems in their life, or find better substitutes that will make him just as happy. Don't even relate it to the smoking at all, just focus on relieving the problems. Again, make sure you don't fall into the nagging. The person needs to feel as if whatever he does is his idea. But you can be very very supportive and helpful of any ideas that he comes up with.

He might start thinking more about removing the crutch of smoking, if the problems that require him to have a crutch lessen or go away.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:41 PM on June 22, 2010

And if/when he does express some interest in quitting, I have heard good things about the electronic cigarettes and about Chantix.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:49 PM on June 22, 2010

Didn't see anyone mention it, but bupropion helped me. Once I got to a point where I was sufficiently internally motivated to stop, the medication helped push me over the top.

I smoked a pack+ a day for 10 years, but I've been off cigarettes for two years now.
posted by Menthol at 2:48 AM on June 23, 2010

As a former smoker (ten years tobacco free), I can tell you, you can't make someone quit, you can only help them quit.
posted by Drasher at 7:17 PM on June 23, 2010

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