What To Do When You Disapprove of Your Cigarette-Smoking Friend or SO

It’s no secret cigarette-smoking is bad for you. However, some people, even ones close to you, might still choose to light up-like your significant other or best friend. If you disapprove, you may be hesitant to voice your concerns. While there’s no guarantee you can change their mind, it’s definitely worth a try. We’re here to help guide you through this difficult conversation.

Before the conversation

Ask yourself these questions: How often are they smoking? Why does the smoking bother you? Are you concerned for selfish reasons?

Write out what you’re feeling and why you disapprove. This will help you sort through your thoughts and you won’t be scrambling when it comes time to actually speak with the person.

Also, think about what you’re hoping to get out of the conversation. Do you want them to quit? Is smoking a deal-breaker for you? Would you be okay if they decided to keep smoking?

Do some research. It never hurts to have your facts straight and to be familiar with the subject of smoking. Here are some resources to check out:

Also, don't approach the person via text. Dr. Barton Goldsmith says “If it’s personal, you will get a better resolution by talking face-to-face.” Figure out a time that works for both of you when you both can give your full and undivided attention.

During the conversation

When it comes times to talk with your SO or friend, no matter what the topic, don’t start the conversation if you haven’t taken care of yourself first. Follow Dr. Goldsmith’s advice of “HALT if you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.” If you’re feeling any of those ways, find another time to talk. If you don’t then you’ll be starting off the conversation on the wrong foot.

Things to remember:

  • Don’t judge
  • Ask questions
  • Listen

Approach the topic from a place of care. Make sure they know that you’re bringing this up because their smoking habits affect not only them but you as well. During the conversation, experts at Smokefree.gov suggest asking open-ended questions such as “what made you want to start smoking?” and “what things make you crave a cigarette?" and remember not to lecture them of their behavior. Don't count how many cigarettes they've smoked nor nag them about how unhealthy and terrible smoking is. Smokefree.gov says that doing so can actually cause the person to not come to you when they need help especially in regards to quitting.  

Here are some potential situations you might come across:

If they say that their smoking shouldn’t be your concern…

Preface by saying your primary concern is them; however, there are other legitimate reasons you’re worried — like secondhand smoke. Also, since they are an important person in your life, their health, as well as your health, are areas of your concern. You want them to be living their best life and to be healthy. The truth is that they just can't be the best version of themselves while smoking. 

Related: The Truth About Social Smoking: How Bad For You Is It?

If they say you don’t understand…

Ask them to explain it to you then. Be active listener while they’re talking and remind them that you do care and want to understand.

Don’t be afraid to ask why they smoke, too. Are they smoking because of other people they’re hanging out with? Did a parent or close relative smoke? Are they trying to deal with something else? Do they just not know how to quit? Getting down to the root cause of why they smoke can help you understand where they’re coming from.

If they say I just won’t smoke around you…

This might be the best compromise at the moment. Don’t say you’re fine with something if you’re not. Dr. Goldsmith says, “The problem is that if your mate finds out the truth, it will damage the core of your relationship: trust. Being honest up front can save you from a lot of pain down the road.”

Just because they aren’t smoking around you doesn’t mean it won’t still affect your relationship or friendship. The saying “out of sight, out of mind” doesn’t apply here. The smell of smoke will still be on their clothes, car and wherever they live. Even if they aren't smoking right in front of you, it doesn't mean that them smoking won't be an issue. 

If they say they want to quit but can’t…

That’s great that they actively want to be done with smoking. If they think that they can’t quit, the American Lung Association suggests telling them that you know they can do it and for you to not offer your own advice on how they should quit. If they’ve tried to quit before, ask what they did. While you can, of course, be there to support them, don’t take on more than you can handle. Help them find the right resources to try to kick the habit.

There are a lot of resources out there to help. Encourage them to sign up for SmokefreeTXT. It’s a texting service to help those who are trying to quit. People can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free support as well. The American Lung Association has a program called Freedom from Smoking which is worth looking into.

Quitting is not an easy task and they’ll need your support. Here are some ways that the experts at Smokefree.gov say you can be the person they need:

Plan smoke-free activities

  •             Have you both been dying to try that new restaurant down the street? Make reservations!
  •             Is their favorite artist coming to town? Go to the concert!
  •             Play tourist for the day. Who doesn’t love exploring?
  •             Get some friends together and have a game night.

Help them figure out ways to deal with cravings

  •             Chew some gum
  •             Eat veggie sticks or suck on hard candy
  •             Play a game; Smokefree has an app called Smokefree’s quitSTART app that features games and challenges to help distract the person from their cravings to smoke. 

The road to recovery will not be an easy one, so remember to be patient, celebrate successes and help them de-stress.

If they say thanks for telling me, but I’m going to continue to smoke…

While it may not be the outcome you were hoping for, be proud of yourself for having the courage to bring it up with them. If this is their response, vocalize how you don’t want them to be smoking around you then. Secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard and is known to cause cancer. According to the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke causes more than 41,000 deaths per year.

If smoking is a deal breaker for you, you might have to decide whether or not you want to stay in the relationship or keep this friendship. This is definitely a tricky situation. As much as you may wish that they would just stop smoking because you want them to, at the end of the day the only person who can make the decision to stop smoking is them. Before you make any decisions, take time to really think about what you want. 

When it comes down to it, if smoking is a deal-breaker for you it might be time to say bye to this friendship or relationship. 

After the conversation

Check back in with them. Conversation didn’t go how you hoped? Give it a couple days or even a week before broaching the topic again. If they said they were going to try to quit, hold them accountable and ask what you can do to help them.

While it might be a hard pill to swallow, at the end of the day it’s their decision to smoke. The important thing is that you spoke up. Open communication is key to any healthy relationship whether that be a relationship with your SO or BFF. If them smoking bothers you, bring it up. It’s important to talk about how you’re feeling. While part of you might think you should just brush it under the rug or to forget about it, odds are that doing that will probably bite you in the (cigarette) butt later.

Victoria is a senior marketing major with a sustainability minor at the University of Portland. In her free time, she loves browsing the aisles of Target, exploring Portland and drinking chocolate milk. When in doubt her outfits are almost entirely from Old Navy and you can normally find her in Kenna Hall where she is one of the Resident Assistants. 

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