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How To Help a Smoker Quit: The Do's and Dont's

“Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.” – Mark Twain

There is no denying it, quitting smoking is tough. Thursday, November 15 is the American Cancer Society’s 37th Annual Great American Smokout, where smokers around the nation will give up the habit for the day—and hopefully for the rest of their life. Each year, more than half of all smokers in the U.S. attempt to quit smoking and over two-thirds say they would like to quit. Smoking affects everyone and the reasons to quit are nearly endless: it’s is expensive, limits lung function, causes a variety of debilitating diseases (for both the smoker and those exposed to secondhand smoke), and takes years off of life. In fact, tobacco use is the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States.

Cigarette smoking also increases risk for dozens of types of cancer. Quitters have the added benefit of seeing this risk diminish with time, according to the American Cancer Society. Roberta Cahill of the Yankton Sioux Tribe in South Dakota says there is reason to be concerned.

“Unfortunately, American Indians and Alaskan Natives have a lower survival rate once they receive a cancer diagnosis, compared to that of the general population,” says Cahill, “and that’s true for a variety of reasons. Some factors include: later stage of the disease when diagnosed, the lack of available screening services in their area, lack of appropriate care, and sometimes they have to travel long distances just to get to treatment centers.”

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When smokers quit, they avoid facing diseases like cancer and as a family member or close friend of a quitter, of course you want to be supportive. Knowing how to help your loved one can be difficult. The American Cancer Society has tools and resources for quitters—and for family and friends, too. Use these tips to help the quitter in your life be a success!

What you can and should DO . . .

  • Make your house smoke free. Remove all lighters, cigarettes, ash-trays or other items that may lead to slips. Ask other smokers to leave if they choose to smoke. If you are a smoker yourself, do so away from the quitter or make quitting a team effort.
  • Keep things like gum, straws to chew on, hard candy to suck or veggies for munching available when unpredictable cravings arise.
  • Distract the quitter by spending time together—go for a walk, see a movie, or try something new together.
  • Put yourself in their shoes: quitting smoking is a big lifestyle change. The decision and execution is entirely up to the quitter.
  • Be encouraging and positive—even if they slip up or return to their old habits, it may just be a road bump on the way to a smoke-free lifestyle. Remind the quitter of the reasons they tried quitting in the first place.
  • Ask about the quitter’s wellbeing instead of how their quitting goals are going.
  • Help reduce stress for the quitter by lending a hand with chores or other tasks that could lighten their load.
  • Celebrate successes! Quitting is a huge lifestyle change and quitters should be rewarded to keep them going – come up with goals and appropriate rewards as motivation before beginning.

Things you need to avoid . . .

  • Don’t doubt the quitter’s ability to give up smoking. Your faith in them can provide the encouragement they need to stay motivated.
  • Don’t judge, nag, preach, or scold. Negativity might drive your loved one to reach for a cigarette just to help them calm down.
  • Don’t take the quitter’s grumpiness personally during their nicotine withdrawal. Remind them that you understand the symptoms are real and remind them that they won’t last forever.
  • Don’t offer advice, as tempting as it can be. Ask how you can help with the quit plan they’ve made.
  • Don’t ever offer the quitter a smoke, even as a joke!
  • Don’t assume that if your quitter “slips”, or takes a puff or smokes a cigarette, that they will start smoking like before. Slipping is common when a person is quitting. Help them to get back on track with encouragement! More info on quitting at the American Cancer Society web site at