Healthy Living

Quitting Time: Helping a Loved One Stop Smoking

Nov. 19, 2015

Despite declining tobacco use in recent decades, about 42 million—1 in 5—adults in the U.S. smoke. About one-third of them try to quit each year. However, only 4 to 7 percent will succeed without help from medications or the people around them, according to the American Cancer Society.

Supporting loved ones when they’re trying to end their tobacco dependence will help increase their odds of success. Patty Mallaber, coordinator of the Wilmot Cancer Institute’s Tobacco Treatment Program, shares these tips for helping loved ones quit.

woman being supportive of husband

  • Be informed. Know that quitting is possibly one of the most difficult things anyone may face in life because nicotine is extremely addictive. Helping your loved one quit will require an understanding attitude and patience through the process.
  • Be a distraction. When they feel like they want a cigarette, go with them for a walk, play a game, help them cook dinner, take them to the movies or do something else you both enjoy. Getting their mind off their cravings can help them get through a tough time. 
  • Be a comfort. The side effects are tough. Withdrawal symptoms include headache, nausea, irritability, anxiety, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating and more. Even if they seem to be keeping it together on the outside, they may be experiencing physical symptoms that are uncomfortable.
  • Be trustworthy. There is a good chance they’ll feel anxiety about quitting and they may get moody. Be reliable and supportive for them, and lend an ear when they need to talk. It can help them feel better. 
  • Be positive. Your instinct might be to resort to anger or nagging as a way to help them, but this often does more harm than good. Be supportive and nonjudgmental, and celebrate every success they have, even if it seems small. Slip-ups are going to happen for many who are trying to quit, but even if they’ve been smoke-free for a day, or if they managed to skip one smoke break they almost always take, that’s a win. They’re more likely to succeed if you get excited over their wins rather than becoming mad over the times they fall.

If you or a loved one needs help to quit smoking, the URMC Healthy Living Center may be offer support. They can help smokers develop a quitting plan with support from tobacco dependence counselors and medical staff, which is covered by Medicaid and many insurance plans. Information is available by calling (585) 530-2050. In addition, there are free resources available from the New York State Smokers’ Quitline: 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487) and


Patty Mallaber

Patty Mallaber, M.S., R.N., A.N.P.-B.C., is a nurse practitioner dedicated to the Tobacco Treatment Program at UR Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute. The program works to help those undergoing cancer treatment quit smoking as this may help make their treatment more effective. To learn more about this program or to be referred, talk to your oncologist.