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Giving up smoking

The role of others in the decision to quit

Many people had no single reason for giving up smoking, but friends, family and colleagues often played a role in the decision to quit. Some people were influenced by the feelings and concerns of partners or close family, others said that being ‘nagged’ by people was counterproductive.

Thinking about others

People often started to think about risks to their own health when they considered the knock-on effects any risk to their health would have on others. For example, Jules and Haseen mentioned the importance of having children and feeling that they wanted to ‘be there for them’. As people got older they tended to think more about the health risks of smoking and wanting to see their families grow up. People also mentioned other reasons for wanting to stop, such as being worried about a family member who had become seriously ill.
 

Mariam’s son found her cigarettes and lectured her about the dangers of smoking. She hasn’t smoked since.

Mariam’s son found her cigarettes and lectured her about the dangers of smoking. She hasn’t smoked since.

Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
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And one day, the last moment was my son. I wanted a cigarette. I had a few left and I went to bathroom and I forgot it there. The pack with the lighter and everything. I forgot it was there. They were going to bed. It was one o’clock in the morning, they were going to bed and I was waiting for them to fall asleep so I could get out. Or my Mum would also lie for me, because she was saying, “All right don’t come here. We’re sleeping.” And she’d stand on the door, so I could have a cigarette there. So people, the children won’t come here. And then he caught it. And he said, “Can I talk to you?” I went, into the kitchen. And he spoke to me for about two hours, my son, my eldest son. He’s going to be 20 soon. He thinks he’s my Father sometimes. Because if I meet somebody he always asks me a lot of questions about that person. How old is he? What does he do for job? [Laughs]. Was he married? All kind of questions. “Who called you?” And all that. And he was interrogating me. And he took kept, took breaking, like smashing, he was liking breaking into pieces. This is rubbish you put into your system. He was telling me, he was lecturing me. I thought for a moment it should have been the other way round, you know. Mothers with teenage children 20 years old some, they are trying to put their children straight and the mothers, you know, you see our neighbours here. So many teenage children’s stands there smoking. And their mothers would be doing and they wouldn’t even listen to their parents. They were doing….

And here I am my teenage son saying that’s not healthy for you. You know, that’s the rubbish you put down in you. And he went to the website, showed some kind of charts apparently, nicotine is more addictive than alcohol and cocaine and all that. And then how it affects your brain. How it… and he was telling me all this and he was really angry with me. And that was it [laughs].

So that was the motivating factor?

Yes, that wasn’t long after that he throw away my pack of cigarettes so I didn’t smoke since.
 

Rukmini and her partner used to fight about smoking and this, along with the expense, was one reason why she quit.

Rukmini and her partner used to fight about smoking and this, along with the expense, was one reason why she quit.

Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
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Well that was, you know, one of the reasons why I quit smoking, because she was so unhappy. She said, “You know, you can do whatever you want to do, but not smoke. Yeah, we spoke about it and it did cause a bit of you know, fights between us that I smoked and she didn’t really like smoking, but over time, I think you know, I just made a conscious choice, and I think it was also dictated by economic reasons. I was going to move here. I got a scholarship to come here, and everybody told me that cigarettes were ridiculously expensive here and I could not sustain for a very long time on cigarettes that were brought from India, from subcontinent and brought to the UK. And I just thought, you know, what I’ve been talking about, you know, wanting to give up for a very long time, and this is my chance. I’m just going to make a clean break and not smoke at all.
 

Roger’s daughters helped to persuade him to quit smoking because they worried about his future health.

Roger’s daughters helped to persuade him to quit smoking because they worried about his future health.

Age at interview: 66
Sex: Male
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I think it was my daughters, my daughters, my youngest daughter said to me, “Oh, I want you to stop smoking, because I want you to be around for a bit longer.” And it’s not a very nice thing to hear from your daughter who’s quit smoking, who’s much younger than you obviously, and she’s telling you thinks which you should know. And things you should either have done something about long ago, or should be actively thinking about doing right now. And I was quite happy to carry on smoking away, it’s not going to happen to me and all the rest of it. And I was one of the unlucky ones who, believe it or not, it did happen to me. So and I, you know, I mean it’s a hell of a gamble, it’s a hell of a gamble, it’s not going to happen to me. Hm. Hm. Because if it does it’s probably too late for some people. I was lucky but it might not be lucky for some.
Some people did not realise how strong cigarette smoke smelt, and what effect it must have had on other people, until after they had stopped themselves. Lisa even thought of going back to the people who she had smoked in front of and apologising. Caroline felt happy that she could be with her grandchildren without having to chew mints first or have her hair smelling of smoke.

Where and when people feel they can smoke has changed dramatically over the last few decades over and above the legal restrictions. People talked about the effect that cigarette smoke had on others, particularly children, pregnant women or those who were unwell. One of Carol’s major reasons for giving up was to be able to have "full access" to her granddaughter’. Although Keith didn’t smoke around his son when his son was young, he did when he was older – he regrets that now.

Chris gave up when she was diagnosed with emphysema (a chronic lung disease where the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs overinflate, causing a decrease in lung function) and bronchiectasis (where the airways of the lungs become abnormally widened, leading to a mucus build-up) and, amongst other reasons, she wanted to quit to live long enough to see her grandchildren married. Miles smoked far less because his girlfriend (now wife) didn’t like smoking and he wanted to give up for her. Munir wanted to quit smoking because his wife was diagnosed with cancer and could no longer stand the smell. Chris successfully quit when her daughter was diagnosed with cancer.

Angela’s daughter had quite bad asthma as a child and was always “dead against smoking” but she struggled to give up even though she really wanted to.
 

Miles found out his son had cystic fibrosis, which made him very sensitive to cigarette smoke.

Miles found out his son had cystic fibrosis, which made him very sensitive to cigarette smoke.

Age at interview: 48
Sex: Male
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In 2000 my son unfortunately, was diagnosed with a condition called cystic fibrosis. Which is a hereditary chest condition. And, as a consequence of that, certainly the medical advice is that he cannot be, nobody can ever smoke in front of him. And not only that, but really, you shouldn’t smoke yourself, even away from his presence, because event he sort of smell and the toxins which come from your clothes can actually have some sort of material detriment to him as well. So at that stage I was very much motivated to completely, to cut myself completely away from any sort of smoking, whether it would be sort of cigarettes or cigars. Certainly, well I’ve never, I never smoked in his presence. But I suddenly weaned myself off even that sort of, the occasional one. And also, sort of less, less important I would say, probably my own health. Because myself and my wife each have a cystic fibrosis gene. So we’re normal per se, as a result of that that’s what, it’s the two genes from myself and my wife would have essentially got together and produced this cystic fibrosis child.
 

Munir stopped smoking in front of his missus after she had had cancer.

Munir stopped smoking in front of his missus after she had had cancer.

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Male
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My missus used to smoke during pregnancies and then give up. But I think it was because of her health. I didn’t want her to how can I say it? Because she was suffering from cancer and she had major surgery, and she was traumatised, she was so under pressure and stress as well, I didn’t want her to think or worry about cigarettes smell as well. So that was my contribution her towards her to say, “I care for you.” So it was a caring gesture as well, and it was a will power for my missus for her that I smoked, and that’s why I say, “I’m not going to smoke.” Because every time I smoked, she felt bad. She used to walk out of the house or go outside and then she used to start vomiting and feeling sick, and I says, “No I can’t do with this.” But it is more important my missus or is it the cigarettes I smoke, because it’s causing her so much grief, so that’s… It was a combination of things that helped me. But some people, you know, we had good service, I was fortunate enough to give up, and some people are not.
Keith’s wife and son had made it “pretty clear” they wanted him to stop, but he said that he used “diversionary tactics”. Later he had a minor stroke and then there was an unspoken understanding that he would stop. Some people, like Caroline, knew their family disapproved of their smoking, so smoked in secret. Tam gave up when she was pregnant, in part because she knew she would “never hear the end of it” from her sister and mother if she was a ‘pregnant smoker’.

Laura knew that her parents didn’t want her to smoke but they didn’t tell her off, and Anna’s mother didn’t want her to smoke but wasn’t a “disciplinarian”.
 

Cassie’s friends didn’t like her smoking, and thought that her house smelt of cigarettes, but she still found it hard not to smoke.

Cassie’s friends didn’t like her smoking, and thought that her house smelt of cigarettes, but she still found it hard not to smoke.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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And you said that some of your friends are really encouraging you to do it?

Yes, they are, they hate smoking. Yes, it’s pretty good. A lot of them, you know, they, they argue with me. They say you’re smoking holds us up because we can’t get on the bus, and they can’t get the tube because I always smoke and then I argue with them and I make them feel like it, go away, do your own thing. But I think it has the potential to break up friendships and relationships which is quite sad. And I think people should try and stop for that in itself. Luckily it hasn’t, it hasn’t damaged any of mine, but I’m sure before I used to smoke in the house and my friends came, and I’m sure they didn’t like it, I’m sure it wasn’t nice. And people would say, “Oh all I can smell is cigarettes.” Which didn’t make me feel very good, but it didn’t stop me, it just made me buy a body spray instead. But I wish it did. It just feels that there’s something, there’s something that will make me stop. But I’ve just got to find, or I’ve just got to push a button in my head that says, “No, no more.”

Because ultimately I am stronger and it sickens me to think that this little stick has so much power over me and I’m allowing that to happen. I do have the power to stop that. It’s just about finding it, you know.
 

His smoking didn’t bother Andrew’s girlfriend and his friends were neutral about his attempt to give up.

His smoking didn’t bother Andrew’s girlfriend and his friends were neutral about his attempt to give up.

Age at interview: 32
Sex: Male
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No one told me, no one told me to stop.

So not even your girlfriend?

She didn’t no. She didn’t, I thought that it would be fairer to her, for her. She didn’t no, it didn’t bother her. She said, “It doesn’t bother me.” I thought it would be a nice thing to do, it was probably a nice thing for me as well. But nobody I’d always sort of done it on my own. And I’d not, I’d not said to anyone, “Oh I’m going to give up smoking.” Just in case I failed. So I didn’t say to people right beforehand, “Oh I’m going to give up next week.” Just in case I changed my mind. So I’d always done it sort of on my own. And obviously once you give up and like be in the pub, and somebody will say, “Do you want a fag?” “No.” They be like, “What, because you never say no. Don’t say no.” It’s like, “What do you mean?” I’d say, “I’ve given up.” You might get some comment. But people were if not supportive, they didn’t like hinder you and try and try and like force cigarettes on you and force you to smoke. But people weren’t, so people weren’t, weren’t, weren’t people were very neutral, they didn’t really care. That’s my, I told my Mother, she thought it was great, I’m sure she thought, yes. As far as my friends were concerned, it was just like…
Peter didn’t think his wife played a role in his decision to quit, even though she didn’t smoke herself. Some people even said that their friends offered them cigarettes when they were trying to stop. Mariam remembered a time when a friend offered her a cigarette after a hard day, and Anna started smoking again because her co-workers were smokers and offered her a cigarette.

Some people’s friends and family didn’t comment or give advice, but they gained encouragement from simply being around someone who didn’t smoke, for example a partner. When Angela moved in with her brother and his wife – non-smokers – she noticed that their house smelt nice and she thought more about giving up.
 

Abdul felt a sense of achievement in doing a charity run with his friends and decided to try to quit smoking.

Abdul felt a sense of achievement in doing a charity run with his friends and decided to try to quit smoking.

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Male
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Then last year in September we had to do on the back of the floods in Pakistan, a few of the people in our social circle put on a charity run. That was in [place name]. And I said, “I want to do it.” And I was looking forward to it, but it was a 5km run, and I’m a smoker and I was like, I was really dreading that. I was so scared of that run, and I thought, look, you know, you haven’t been able to, give yourself a chance with it, will you, just give yourself a chance, and I thought, well there are two days. I think it was a Sunday we were meant to do the run on. Give yourself a chance, stop smoking for two days before it, at least. So I stopped smoking for two days, and that was the first time I’d had two days off in a row since 2001 in December when I was doing my Masters and I took that one month off before Christmas. And so I had those two days off, then I’d do the run. That was a third day, and I felt that after that run I’d never felt so good. Best thing I did last year was that run. I was completed in the end 7 km, the weather was brilliant. There was an enormous sense of achievement amongst everybody that was there. It was such a feel good thing. And of the two days that I’d given up before then, and then that day itself, I thought okay, you’ve done three days now. Don’t smoke today for the rest of the day and then see what happens when you wake up.
 

Gareth’s wife supports him not by saying much, but because he knows that she doesn’t want him to smoke he doesn’t do so near her.

Gareth’s wife supports him not by saying much, but because he knows that she doesn’t want him to smoke he doesn’t do so near her.

Age at interview: 58
Sex: Male
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And, yes, and really the main support comes through [name of partner] anyway because you know, we obviously have friends and there are, but we don’t talk about smoking. You know, and if we’re socialising with a group of say six friends, and I’m the only smoker I might go out once, if at all, you know. The difference is if there was another smoker amongst the group, then you go out more often. That’s all, you know, it’s all these…

Little things.

Yes, yes, yes.

So how does [name of partner] support you?

Well at the moment you know, and certainly last Sunday she doesn’t have to actually do or say anything, because I know and if we’re actually planning to do something like we go for a drive or we go somewhere, I’d never smoke in the car and I don’t smoke in the house. So that’s a form of support, you know, because she doesn’t want me to, so I won’t do it, you know. That helps. And, if she, you know, if I say I’d like a cigarette before we go somewhere, she gets annoyed. Now that helps. Because I think, well yes, why do I need to light up now before I get into the car? There are times when I will have a cigarette if I really want to have one. You know, you can’t stop anybody once they’ve made the decision, if they want to do something. I guess we all do it, but for different reasons you know, but sometimes you do have to think further than yourself and it’s really about that yes, it’s being aware, well it’s reading your circumstances, what’s happening around you at that particular time. And most, most I guess most smokers, just ignore that anyway. If they want a fag they just go and have one. That doesn’t make me feel good.
(Also see ‘Unsolicited advice from health professionals, family and friends’ and ‘Life events and their effect on people’s motivation to stop smoking’).

​Last reviewed August 2018.
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