Love, not nags, may help smokers quit, Winship Cancer Institute expert says

By Lynne Anderson | Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Feb. 23, 2012

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About 17-18 percent of adults in the United States continue to smoke.

Smoking is not only is the major cause of lung cancer, the nation’s number one cancer killer, but it also responsible for as many as 30 percent of all coronary heart disease deaths in the United States each year.

If you want a loved one to stop smoking and you feel tempted to nag, you may want to try to extinguish your impulse. You might be doing more harm than good, a Winship Cancer Institute expert says. Reinforce positively and try not to nag, advises Carla Berg, a member of Winship’s Cancer Prevention and Control program and a professor in the Rollins School of Public Health. And, remember that your role as a loved one to help a non-smoker quit is very important, Berg says.

"In fact, supportive behaviors have been associated with initial smoking cessation, while negative or critical behaviors have been associated with earlier relapse," says Berg.

This is important to keep in mind especially during Heart Month, Berg says, when many smokers are trying to quit. 

"About 17-18 percent of adults in the United States continue to smoke, and we want to do everything we can to help them stop," Berg says. Smoking is not only is the major cause of lung cancer, the nation’s number one cancer killer, but it also responsible for as many as 30 percent of all coronary heart disease deaths in the United States each year. Smoking is a major risk factor for more than two dozen other cancers, including head and neck cancer, bladder cancer and stomach cancer. 

Berg says an important component can be providing support to someone who is trying to quit. In fact, the initiation, maintenance and cessation of smoking are strongly influenced by other family members. Smokers are more likely to marry smokers, to smoke the same number of cigarettes as their spouse, and to quit at the same time. Smokers who are married to nonsmokers or ex-smokers are more likely to quit and remain abstinent.

In addition, married smokers have higher quit rates than those who are divorced, widowed or have never married. Research shows that support from the spouse and from other family members and friends is highly predictive of successful smoking cessation. In particular, supportive behaviors such as talking the smoker out of smoking the cigarette, and reinforcement, such as expressing pleasure at the smoker's efforts to quit, predict successful quitting. Negative behaviors, like nagging and complaining about smoking, are predictive of relapse.

In addition, encouraging the establishment of smoke-free homes reduces exposure to secondhand smoke among all people living with smokers. Because secondhand smoke exposure has been found to have detrimental effects on the cardiovascular health of people living with smokers, particularly children in homes where smoking occurs, promoting smoke-free homes is critical. Research also shows that creating smoke-free homes encourages attempts to quit smoking and reduces cigarette consumption among smokers.