Tips to help a friend quit smoking

It can be difficult to watch a friend smoke when we know that smoking tobacco shortens lives and comes with a higher risk of lung cancer. In fact, people who smoke are about 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer than those who don’t. But, it’s important to understand that for many people, quitting smoking is one of the hardest things they’ll ever do. And you can’t make the decision for someone else to quit but you can be there for them and encourage them along the way.

When a loved one decides to quit, having a caring and supportive friend by their side can make their quitting process more successful. They may not succeed at first and it can take time, but with your support, they can quit.

Keep reading for some advice from our Help Someone Quit booklet and learn how you can be there one step at a time.

Understand the power of nicotine

Nicotine is the addictive ingredient in cigarettes – it’s so addictive that many people who want to quit smoking are scared to try. They may have tried to quit before, but the withdrawal symptoms were too much to handle. In fact, on average, it can take up to 30 attempts to finally quit smoking.

When a person is trying to quit smoking, their whole body will fight back as they try to get a very powerful drug out of their system. Recognizing that it takes great strength to quit smoking is important while supporting your friend on their journey to becoming smoke-free.

Talk about quitting

Talking about quitting smoking with a friend can be a difficult conversation. These tips can help you ask them about it and show that you’re there to support them.

Don’t be pushy or judgmental. Focus on showing them that you are genuinely concerned for their well-being

Tailor your message based on their personality. For some people, a heartfelt message might be the right approach. For others, upbeat and encouraging words may be the best way to support them.

Really listen to what they want. The best message you can send is one of support and respect – not criticism. Remember that quitting is their decision, and your job is to support them when they’re ready.

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Show, don't tell

Once someone has decided to quit smoking, they’re more likely to succeed when friends or family offer their help and support.

Ask how you can help. Quitting is different for everyone, so ask your friend how you can be most helpful to them. If they aren’t sure, let them know that you’re there if they need anything.

Offer them resources. Some people may find that a step-by-step guide to quitting can help them on their journey. They can also turn to the Canadian Cancer Society for a number of proven methods to help them quit, including quitlines, supportive online communities and programs like Walk or Run to Quit.

Acknowledge their fears and anxiety. When someone has smoked for a long time, the idea of quitting can be scary. Let your friend know that mixed feelings are normal and that you understand that they may have doubts and fears about quitting.

Share your own quitting experience. If you’ve quit smoking yourself, tell them how glad you are that they’re quitting. Share the good things you’ve experienced by being smoke-free but avoid saying that it was easy for you to quit. Respect that their experience is unique, and this is their challenge to overcome.

Follow their lead. Be sensitive to your friend’s needs, and don’t assume that you know what’s best for them. Be supportive but give them space when they need it. 

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Help create a plan

Someone who is trying to quit smoking is more likely to succeed if they make a plan. You can’t make their plan for them – they need to develop it based on their own goals. But, you can help with these planning tips.

Set a quit date. By setting a date, they’re committing to quitting and will have something to work toward. It can be helpful to choose a day when their schedule is routine, avoid special days like birthdays or anniversaries and avoid days with a deadline or something that might cause extra stress.

Discuss how they want to quit. Your friend may want to quit on their own, use a self-help resource or try quit aids like the patch, gum or a prescription medicine. Encourage them to speak to their doctor if they have any questions.

Get support from friends and family. Encourage them to tell their friends and family that they’ve decided to quit. The more support they have, the better their chances for staying smoke-free. They can also find support by reaching out to Smokers’ Helpline (our free helpline available 7 days a week to support Canadians in their efforts to quit smoking and vaping) or Talk Tobacco (our quitline for First Nation, Inuit, Métis and urban Indigenous peoples).

Create a smoke-free environment. Help them make a fresh start by encouraging them to get rid of items they connect with smoking like cigarettes, lighters and ashtrays.

Prepare for triggers. Talk to them about all the people, places and things that may make them want to smoke. Offer to help make concrete plans for how they’ll deal with these situations. 

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Quit together

A great way to show your support for your friend is by quitting something as well – it could be coffee, sugar, social media or anything else you want to give up. By quitting something too, you’ll show your friend how much you believe in them and want to support them. You might not understand what it’s like to quit smoking, but you can experience the act of quitting something – and that will mean a lot to them.

While supporting your friend on their journey to become smoke-free, it’s important to remember that quitting smoking is hard and not everyone will succeed on the first try. Each person’s quitting experience is unique – but no matter their journey, you'll be there to support them, cheer them on and celebrate the day that they’re smoke-free.

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