1. “You’re going to get lung cancer.” Yes, it’s true, smoking causes cancer, emphysema, and all sorts of other problems. But smokers have heard these arguments so often that they’re like the annoying buzz of a mosquito.
“The health risks of smoking aren’t news to anyone; smokers have heard it all before,” says Pam Mills, an addiction counselor and hypnotherapist in Denver, Colorado. “All they do is block you out or say whatever they think will shut you up.”
2. “If you loved me, you’d quit.” As with any addiction, guilt doesn’t work, experts say, because if the smoker believed he could quit, he would. All it does is make him feel guilty and bad about himself — and angry at you for making him feel crummy.
3. “Smoking is disgusting. I don’t know why you don’t quit.” Making a smoker feel bad about smoking is counterproductive because he feels that way already but can’t admit it to himself. You’ll just drive a wedge between you both, when the message you want to give is that you’re on his side. Besides, you probably do know why he doesn’t quit: He thinks he can’t.
Replace those negative comments with neutral or positive ones. You might start by asking, “How can I support you in getting healthier?” Follow that with encouragement focused on whatever goals the smoker has chosen as his motivation.
4. “Look at you; you get out of breath so easily.” Instead of pointing out the smoker’s shortness of breath, take a sneakier approach, suggests addiction expert Susan Gayle of New York. Together with your smoking partner, take up an activity, such as golf or ballroom dancing, that requires healthy lungs. Make getting healthy a joint project, and let your loved one figure out that smoking is getting in the way. Your point will be made for you.
5. “Do you want your grandchildren to see you smoking?” While smokers talk a good game, typically insisting that they’re happy with their identity as smokers, deep down they’re ashamed of their dependence. Shaming them doesn’t work because they’re there already. Much more effective is to take the opposite approach, helping the smoker envision how proud he would feel if he were able to stop smoking: “You’re going to be a wonderful example for the grandchildren when you quit.”
By Melanie Haiken, Caring.com senior editor