Want a Loved One to Quit Smoking? Science Says to Do This

Start really channeling your inner Grumpy Cat.

We all know that smoking is terrible for you, and that it's the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. One recent study found that having just one cigarette a day can significantly shorten your lifespan, and another recent study found that it takes a whopping 16 years to reverse the effects of smoking once you quit. In spite of all of this, recent statistics show that more than 15 of every 100 Americans aged 18 years or older currently smoke cigarettes, which adds up to about 37.8 million adults in the United States. Yes, in 2018.

If you're a smoker, you know that quitting is maddeningly difficult. And if your well-meaning friends and relatives try to guilt or shame you into quitting, the strategy often backfires, as you simply grow resentful towards them, tell them it's none of their business what you do with your body. You might even start to hide the habit more, which only enhances its appeal, as it makes smoking a cigarette feel like a forbidden, secret ritual, or a minor crime against yourself that you get away with every time.

However, according to a new study published in The Journal of Consumer Affairs, shaming can actually help someone quit, but there's a hitch: It only works if the focus of the shaming is on how the behavior affects other people, as opposed to the smoker himself.

Most tobacco packaging today comes with shock tactics meant to dissuade the smoker from buying a pack, and range from alarming warnings about how smoking can cause impotency and gruesome photos of cancerous mouths. However, some studies have shown that these graphic images and captions aren't effective. So the researchers conducted an experiment in which the tried to see if packaging that focused on the negative consequences that smoking has on others is more effective than packaging that only addresses the health effects it has on themselves.

According to the paper, their results "support the notion that packaging which conveys to smokers that 'others' view smoking negatively is sufficient to trigger feelings of self-consciousness, which in turn reduces smoking intentions. This approach is particularly effective in 'isolated' smokers who do not see smoking as identity‐relevant or congruent with their social self. These findings suggest that for a particular segment of the smoking population, the integration of negative social cues on packaging may be an effective complement to current fear-based appeals."

While more research is necessary, these findings seem logical. Many smokers say that they can't quit because it helps them deal with stress, even though we all know that nicotine actually enhances anxiety levels by increasing your heart rate. Because it's a mood-altering drug that offers a temporary release of the feel-good hormone dopamine, many adults begin smoking in order to cope with events that are causing them enormous pain, like the loss of a job or a brutal divorce.

It makes sense, then, that reading statistics about lung cancer to someone in the midst of emotional turmoil is not going to do much good. When you're depressed, you don't care about whether or not you live to be 100; you're just trying to make it through the day.

As such, if you're trying to help a loved one quit smoking, it might actually be more beneficial to tell them how the habit negatively affects you, as opposed to them. After all, according to the CDC, approximately 2,500,000 nonsmokers have died from health problems caused by exposure to secondhand smoke since 1964. And one study found that learning about the damage that inhaling smoke could do to their pets convinced 28 percent of participants to quit smoking for good.

So, perhaps, in this particular case, it pays to be selfish. And if you're looking for looking for more new methods on how to quit yourself, read up on The Single Best Way to Stop Smoking You've Never Tried.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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