By Odessa Ortiz
As Thanksgiving draws near we may find ourselves around the table with relatives and in-laws who are still smoking after all these years. Or maybe a younger relative has recently picked up the habit. Often concern for our family member’s health is tempered with the desire to respect the smokers “choice” to continue smoking, so we have gathered a few tips and pointers to help guide a helpful conversation on the topic without creating tension with the very person who you care about.
Express concern, not judgment. It is important to understand that nicotine is more addictive than cocaine or heroin. It takes smokers an average of 12 quit attempts to leave tobacco behind for good. Share that you care for them and that you are concerned for their health. Explain that you understand that it must be overwhelming to think about tackling such a strong addiction but that you will be cheering them on when and if they do. Studies tell us that about 70 percent of smokers want to quit, particularly those who have been smoking for many years. You may find that a diehard smoker is more ready to explore quitting than you think.
Explore their motivations. If your loved one expresses a desire to stop smoking someday, it may be helpful to have them tell you a little bit about why. Every individual has their own reasons and motivations but often they fall into one of two categories: health and money. It is likely that a longtime smoker will be experiencing a health issue that is turning into a nagging worry. Diabetes, glaucoma, circulatory, and respiratory issues are all exacerbated by tobacco use and worsen quality of life for those with a tobacco addiction.
Financially, tobacco addiction can be a serious financial burden, particularly for low income smokers. The cost of cigarettes frequently prevents people from spending money on items that they really need, like quality food or utility bills. The average smoker consumes a pack and a half a day, and if you live in Massachusetts, this can easily add up to $360 dollars a month or $4,320 dollars a year!
One motivated South Boston mother who attended a smoking cessation group through the Boston Public Health Commission put the $8.50 a day she was spending on Newports into a big glass jar on the kitchen table. After 6 months she was able save enough to take her son to Disney World for his birthday, something that she never before dreamed would be possible to afford. Reminding people of their own motivations can help nudge them in the right direction.
Offer resources. Quitting cold turkey may be tempting, but it offers the least likelihood of success. Using Nicotine Replacement Therapy, such as the Patch, doubles the chance of success. Combine that with counseling and the odds of success triple! And you don’t need to be a smoking cessation expert to offer good advice. Smokers have more options than ever to support their quit attempts.
Free phone counseling is available from the nationwide Smokers Helpline by dialing 1 800 QUIT-NOW. This free hotline will help anyone plan out their quit attempt and access resources their own communities from Boston all the way to Honolulu. Smokers who live in Boston can also take advantage of the free Patch giveaway for medically eligible residents currently being offered through the Helpline.
Finally, there are many quit-smoking medications available, both over the counter and with a prescription. Most health insurance companies cover some form of quit-smoking medication. Even someone who is resistant to using any type of medication should take advantage of free phone counseling. Activities that reduce stress such as exercise, mediation, yoga, and acupuncture also decrease cravings and support the quitting process. But the most important message to give is, “You don’t need to do this alone!” Seeking support from a professional counselor or health provider for a quit attempt is the number one way to make it permanent.
Most people are happy to hear that someone cares about their health, their future, and them! Let your loved ones know that you understand how hard it can be to quit and that you will be there to cheer them on whenever they decide to make the leap.
For more information on quitting smoking please call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) and for more information on services offered through the Boston Public health Commission, please visit us at www.bphc.org.
Odessa Ortiz is project director for the Communities Putting Prevention to Work Tobacco Initiative.