We all know it’s hard to give up but Dr Matthew Evans from Psychology Consultants shares some tips to support those trying to quit.

Dr Matthew Evans has seen and heard it all from smokers when it comes to giving up and their family members attempting to support them.

“Who hasn’t heard that smoking is bad for your health?” Dr Evans says. “Merely repeating that message isn’t likely to work. Similarly negative health messages of the dire consequences of smoking that are rarely effective in changing people’s behaviour.”

Dr Evans has spent many years working with patients at a thoracic medicine clinic at a major teaching hospital. “Well-meaning family members often try hard to convince their loved one to stop smoking, and in return the person who is smoking can feel their rights to make decisions are being violated and that they are being judged,” Dr Evans says.

He offers a few tips to help anyone wanting to offer support to a smoker who wants to stop smoking or cut back.

Distinguish between “not wanting” and “not feeling able”

Often, smokers have had several unsuccessful prior attempts at quitting. Finding out if they have tried to give up and if so what they have tried, can help someone feel like you are wanting to help rather than just being judgemental.

Ask not tell

The “righting reflex” involves offering advice in order to try to persuade someone to do what YOU think THEY should do. Ask questions first, find out where someone is at, and then help them explore the options of what they should do.

Empathise with the person’s experiences

Smoking is highly addictive and can be a very difficult behaviour to change. Empathy helps people feel heard and understood. It helps people to feel that you are on their side and with them through their struggles.

Get facts and build confidence

If a smoker doesn’t believe they can change, a state called “learned helplessness” can occur, which in terms of smoking, means that people who smoke either accept the health risks or become desensitised to the health messages. A better approach in such cases is to increase the person’s sense that they can change their smoking behaviour if they want to. This can involve highlighting any successes they have had as well as providing information about effective treatments.

Do not pursue the issue if you get a negative response

Sometimes even with the best communication skills in the world you may get a negative response, in which case leave it for the time being.

Know where to get help

Some services that can be useful are:
• Psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy
• QUITline – 13 78 48
• Seeing your GP for information about pharmacological treatments

Dr Matt Evans is part of the team at Psychology Consultants.