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Quitting Smoking While Living With a Smoker

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Many of the patients we see for help to quit smoking also live with a smoker. They regularly comment that it is harder to quit when you live with a smoker. This sounds plausible, but does the evidence back it up?

Professor Martin Jarvis of University College, London, has conducted research showing that the family can have a strong influence on people’s success at stopping smoking. One study followed 18,000 British people from 1981 to 1991. He found that of those smoking in 1981, their chances of having quit by 1991 was 39% if they lived with a non-smoker, but only 14% if they lived with a smoker. The effect is even more marked for smokers who were married to a non-smoker, 52% of whom were non-smokers 10 years later. Within this study there was further evidence that social support is important in that the lowest quit rate (12%) was found in smokers who had lost some social support by being separated, divorced or widowed. This kind of data fits with the notion that family support, and particularly the presence of a non-smoking partner, seems to help people to quit smoking.

Unfortunately we cannot always require the people we live with to quit smoking just because we have decided to quit. If the people you live with have seen you try to quit many times before, it’s possible they don’t think it’s a serious attempt and therefore won’t feel inclined to make much effort to help. Some may be threatened by your quit attempt. They may believe that if you quit, there will be more pressure on them to quit and more restrictions on smoking in the home. They may just realize that they will miss having you as a smoking buddy. So what can you do?

People smoking in front of you, and leaving their cigarettes around in the home will make it harder for you to stay quit. At the very least, it is worth speaking to the people who smoke in your home and explaining to them how important it is to you to quit smoking. Tell them about your reasons, and that you are really serious about it. Tell them it's your personal choice and you are not going to try to get them to quit, but that you’d really appreciate their help while you are trying. It will be important that they don’t smoke in front of you and don’t leave any cigarettes around to tempt you. If they could completely refrain from smoking in the house at all, that would be best. But not having any tobacco in your sight is a perfectly reasonable and sensible request.

Having had the serious talk with the smokers in your home, it’s important, however, to be clear that the only person who decides whether or not you smoke is you. So if someone you live with leaves their cigarette pack on the kitchen table by accident, that was a thoughtless mistake, but it doesn’t mean you need to smoke one of them. Ask them to remove their cigarettes or put the pack in the sink under cold water for a couple of minutes. They’re not as tempting when soaking wet! If the people you live with don’t seem to be acting on your request, have another try at explaining, but this time emphasize your health reasons for quitting. Mention that if you fail to quit it will probably take 10 healthy years off your life, and may mean you won’t get to see your grand-children grow up. These are important things and the people you live with should be able to understand that. If you were a heroin addict trying to give up heroin would they think it was OK to leave a pack of heroin and a syringe on the kitchen table? If you were an alcoholic trying to get sober would they leave an open bottle of whiskey on the kitchen table? Asking these questions should help them to understand and be more helpful with regards to your quit attempt. The rest is up to you.
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About the Author


MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.

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