Caring Currents

How to Get Someone You Love to Quit Smoking (And Why It's Not Too Late)

Last updated: Apr 09, 2009

It's hard for the generation below me, my kids who are growing up in a smoke-free world, to believe that smoking was once so common in the generation above me, my parents and their peers, that doctors advertised their favorite brands in magazine ads.

Not surprisingly, a disproportionately high percentage of current smokers have cancer, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), say researchers at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Tobacco is so addictive that more than half of smokers continue to smoke after being diagnosed with cancer.

But the good news: More than a third of smokers with serious chronic illnesses are likely to quit smoking and remain nonsmokers for at least six months "“ if they use the right approach. And when they do quit, they tend to live longer and with a better quality of life.

So what works?

  • Aggressive treatment: Nicotine patches for the standard 10-week period, nicotine inhalers, and buproprion (the antidepressant Wellbutrin, commonly used for smoking cessation). A study in this week's Annals of Internal Medicine found that after 26 weeks, 35 percent of those using this approach quit compared with 19 percent if those who used the patch alone.

  • Up-to-date advice. A smoker who may have tried to quit in the past might feel it's "useless." Share news of this new study, which shows that cessation treatment has changed. Going "cold turkey" or using the patch alone aren't the only options.

  • Common sense. Explain to an insistent smoker that if he's inclined to pursue aggressive disease-fighting treatment, every puff is like saying "Why bother?" because it undermines the effectiveness of treatment.

  • Encouragement. Point out that it doesn't have to be all-or-nothing at the start. Even cutting back on smokes can marginally improve one's condition. For someone with a fierce addiction, tapering off is easier than going cold turkey.

  • Role models. When I heard about this new smoking cessation study, I thought of when my favorite aunt quit when I was a girl. I remember her complaining about gaining weight when salted nuts replaced her Lucky Strikes. But she knew that the risks of polluted lungs were worse than the risks of a couple of extra pounds, and she quit cold turkey. She's now in amazingly good health. She takes meds only for osteoporosis. And definitely not least, she turns 94 this year!

Aunt Helen's story might not impress someone with a debilitating disease (although the news of that combo therapy's effectiveness might). But in the event it's inspiring to anybody else, I'm all too happy to share it.