November 19, 2015 marks the date of the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, when cigarette smokers are asked to refrain from smoking for one day in hopes that the effort will lead to quitting forever. Most people know a smoker they would like to see stop, but wonder if making that request is appropriate. Research from the University of Vermont (UVM) says “yes” – smokers who are exposed to cues to stop are twice as likely to try to quit.
What are these cues? According to John Hughes, M.D., a UVM professor of psychiatry who has been studying how smokers quit for the last 30 years, prompts can range from simply feeling embarrassed to direct requests from others – spouses, friends, children – to quit. A recent study he conducted featured 134 smokers from across the U.S. who tracked their thoughts about quitting, cues to stop smoking, and actual smoking nightly for three months. The study appears in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
“Our study found that the large majority of quit attempts were spontaneous,” says Hughes, “so there must have been a ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ and induced a quit attempt.”
The research suggests that cues to quit often lead to quit attempts. The more cues, the greater the chance of a quit attempt.
So how best can nonsmokers provide a cue that helps prompt quitting? Hughes has four recommendations, based on his research:
• Diplomacy is important. Refrain from using terms like “ought to,” “should” or “need to” and instead use statements that express concern, like “I am worried about your smoking,” or less threatening statements, such as “Have you thought about quitting?”
• Mention new treatments as an icebreaker. For example, say “I heard about this new app that you can use to stop smoking – have you seen it?” and be prepared to mention the local telephone help line (802Quits in Vermont) and provide contact information for free phone counseling and medication sources.
• Remember that more is not necessarily better. A single comment is probably as effective as a 30-minute discussion.
• Repetition is usually necessary. It’s o.k. to say “I know I asked about your stopping smoking several months ago – has anything come of that?” Most of the time, it will take several diplomatic comments from friends and/or loved ones to have an effect.