With this week marking the midway point of ‘Stoptober’, an annual smoking cessation campaign, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub is spotlighting the important role that friends and family can play in helping someone to stop smoking.
Stoptober is an initiative which encourages people to give up smoking for the month of October. It is based on research that shows if you can stop smoking for 28 days, you are five times more likely to stay smoke-free for good.
Whilst the campaign originated and is predominately promoted in England, many Scots have joined the bandwagon which has seen over one million quit attempts since its launch in 2012.
Although smoking has reduced massively over the last 70 years, worrying new figures show the boredom and stress of coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown led to many more young people taking up the habit.
A recent study funded by Cancer Research UK found that during the first lockdown there was a 25% increase in 18 to 34-year-olds who smoke, with smoking levels in the Greater Cumbernauld area already above the national average. Further research found that 58% of adult smokers wanted to stop, but they find it tough to give up without help.
ASH Scotland (Action on Smoking and Health), a leading charity in tackling tobacco use, has said that only 1 in 20 people who attempt to quit unaided end up giving up smoking for good, but that quitting support can increase the chances of success fourfold.
What is clear is that, as well as official smoking cessation services, the support of friends and family can be invaluable when it comes to ditching cigarettes. Mary McNeil, Development Manager at Cornerstone House Centre, said:
“With a concerning rise in young people smoking during the coronavirus pandemic, it would be great for people to look out for their friends.
“Smokers are most likely to quit successfully if they get help. Long-term stopping smoking improves not just health but also wellbeing and has been estimated to have the same impact as antidepressants.”
Below, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub outlines some different ways in which you can help another person stop smoking.
HOW CAN I BEST SUPPORT A PERSON TO STOP SMOKING?
Be Understanding and Compassionate
Remember that quitting smoking is tough. Not only do smokers suffer the physiological effects of nixing nicotine, but they also grapple with the emotional consequences of switching up their daily routine.
With this in mind, showing compassion, empathy and understanding to your friend who is trying to quit is an excellent approach. Let them know you realise that it’s not easy, tell them when they’re doing well and encourage them not to give in during the difficult times. In this respect, being non-judgemental is another must.
Guide Them to Avoid Emotional Triggers
It is known that many smokers will reach for a cigarette if they’re feeling stressed, lonely, bored or anxious, or perhaps even when they’re happy or satisfied. Therefore, letting them know you’re always there to chat if they need you, whatever the time, is one way you can lend your support.
Encourage Them to Exercise and Do It With Them
As well as simply being good for them, physical activity can help take smokers’ minds off cigarettes. It can make them feel healthier and hopefully less likely to light up and cancel out their exercise efforts. So, why not offer to exercise with them? It’ll be good for you too and it’s much easier to motivate yourself if you’re not exercising alone.
Help Them Identify and Avoid Situations That Cause Them to Smoke
According to NHS Scotland, there are many ‘pattern triggers’ which can lead to people having a cigarette, such as drinking alcohol or coffee, driving, or taking a break at work.
Hence, it may be useful to help your friend identify what their triggers are and devise a plan to avoid them. For example, you could advise on ways they can change their routine, suggest replacements like e-cigarettes or chewing gum, or buy them a stress ball so they’ve got something else to do with their hands.
ASH Scotland says research suggests electronic cigarettes are relatively harmless in comparison with smoking. As such, encouraging them to try alternative nicotine products like e-cigarettes can help them manage the short-term cravings.
Another simple but effective technique can be to encourage your friend to do things that take their mind off cigarettes. Why not, for instance, ask them to go for a walk with you or go to the cinema with them? Anything that helps them change their routine so they’re not doing things where they would normally have smoked can make a difference.
If you smoke, try to quit with your mate, and if you don’t smoke, make sure your social group knows your friend is trying to quit and ask them not to smoke when he or she is around. Research has shown that those who quit together are more likely to succeed. You never know, by giving up smoking you may inspire and motivate them to do the same.
Speak About the Positives
There’s much more to gain than to lose when people quit smoking, so keep drumming it into your friend how well they’re doing and what they’re gaining, both health-wise and financially.
You could let them know that quitting is the single most important step they can take to protect the health of their heart. Even if they’ve smoked for years, quitting will still reduce their risk of heart and circulatory diseases.
Another idea is to advise them that they might notice the benefits of quitting sooner than they think. For example, it is known than 20 minutes after a person stops smoking, their heart rate and blood pressure return to normal. Also, after 2-3 days of stopping, a person’s sense of smell and taste improves, and after 2-12 weeks of giving up, exercise becomes easier and breathing improves.
Stress the Health Implications
Sometimes, it takes spelling out the significant health implications of smoking for a person to sit up and take notice. If you think your friend would react positively to this approach, you could remind them that smoking increases the risk of many forms of cancer, most notably lung cancer of which smoking is the cause in 70% of cases.
You could also highlight that smoking damages the heart and blood circulation and increases the risk of developing conditions such as coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, dementia, peripheral vascular disease (damaged blood vessels) and cerebrovascular disease (damaged arteries that supply blood to the brain).
Smoking levels remains higher than desired in Lanarkshire, with instances of coronary heart disease and COPD a particular problem within the Cumbernauld area. Those who use stop smoking aids and who get face-to-face support from their local stop smoking service are up to four times more likely to quit successfully.
Express Your Concerns Without Lecturing
Many smokers already know the health risks of smoking. Still, the increased risks of lung cancer and heart disease may not be strong enough deterrents. After all, nicotine is viewed by many medical experts as addictive as cocaine and heroin.
However, some smokers don’t realise the emotional and physical damage their habit has on loved ones. For example, secondhand smoke is known to be hazardous and cigarettes are expensive for families.
You could put the effects of your friend’s smoking into perspective by providing a cost analysis, highlighting how much money they are spending on cigarettes. Equally, you could discuss how the habit isolates them from social situations that don’t allow smoking, and at the same time isolates you as their friend.
Point Them Towards Professional Help
As well as support from you, there’s plenty of official help out there. Smokers trying to stop can call Quit Your Way Scotland, a free NHS national helpline for anyone trying to stop smoking, on 0800 84 84 84 or via NHS inform.
Further advice and information on smoking cessation can be gathered through visiting the NHS Stop Smoking Treatments page.
Stoptober offers a range of free support to help people on their quitting journey including an app, daily emails, Facebook Messenger and lots of encouragement from the Stoptober online community on Facebook.
Meanwhile, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub continues to be an active campaigner for a smoke-free Lanarkshire. To this end, it is involved in promoting and supporting implementation of Lanarkshire Tobacco Control Strategy 2018-23.