Did you know that, according to Gallup, 85% of smokers say they have tried to quit at least once in their lifetime, and 45% have tried to quit at least three times? This tells us that quitting smoking is very hard to do. In fact, another survey shows that 76% of smokers say it is easier to continue to smoke than try to quit.
Why is quitting smoking such a challenge? The nicotine withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting smoking are more often discussed; however, the social and behavioral challenges associated with quitting smoking can have a big impact on whether or not someone is successful in quitting.
It’s common to see a group of smokers together. Sometimes it’s college students who sneak out between classes to take a smoke; other times it’s co-workers huddled outside the office building or friends who leave the bar to catch up over a pair of cigarettes. Smoking can be a social event.
Smoking: A Social Matter
According to the authors of The Social Context of Smoking: the Next Frontier in Tobacco Control?, “Smoking should be viewed as a practice that is very much linked to where, when, and with whom [people] smoke.” Smoking can become a collective lifestyle: friends take smoke breaks at the same hour each day, partners smoke and organize their homes around the habit.
When attempting to leave cigarettes behind, quitters are advised to avoid potential triggers: the people, the places and the activities that remind them of cigarettes. But where does that leave them? Quitting smoking can be an isolating experience for some.
In a survey by the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, one-fifth of smokers said they felt that quitting smoking would disrupt their social relationships, and this acted as a barrier to them attempting to quit. Understandably, few want to disturb stable social networks.
Yet it’s been said that those who feel supported are more likely to quit smoking for good. It has been shown that supportive partners and supportive friends may predict successful quits. In a recent survey of American smokers, 80% who are trying to quit reported that support from others is very important to successfully quit smoking.
Involving a Network of Support
Friends and family can help in many ways. They can help quitters plan new activities that do not trigger smoking (such as going out for smoothies instead of a cup of coffee), keep quitters’ spirits up with reminders for all the reasons to quit smoking, or motivate them to continue their quit if they have a slip-up. Even support in the form of online messaging amongst strangers has been proven effective for smoking cessation and abstinence.
Besides friends and family, healthcare providers are also critical in supporting a quit journey. Advice and support from a doctor can double a person’s chances of quitting successfully. Healthcare providers can provide valuable information, motivation and resources to help smokers give up cigarettes. They may provide advice on designing a quit plan, offer methods to help prevent slip-ups and provide counseling or recommend medication if they feel it is appropriate. With all this in mind, it’s important that a smoker prepare for his or her quit by creating a support network of friends, family and healthcare provider.
There are also a number of online tools and resources that can help support a quit attempt. Mobile apps such as Quitter's Circle, developed by the American Lung Association and Pfizer, enables quitters to form support networks with their friends and family, personalize a quit plan and connect with a healthcare provider for support—all of which increases the chances of quitting smoking.
Quitting smoking does not have to be attempted alone. With the help of others, the quit journey can be a success and lead smokers to smoke-free futures.
Chetna Bhattacharyya, MD, is a Senior Director in Medical Affairs at Pfizer
After reading this article, how likely are you to involve a network of support in your plan to quit smoking?