Straight Talk Advice

Mar 11, 2014

Girlfriend’s cigarette smoking might be deal-breaker

Dear Straight Talk: Ugh, I just found out my girlfriend smokes. I really like her, but now I'm torn. It's how I was raised — I just hate cigarettes. We are both 17. She kept it from me, probably knowing I wouldn't approve, but I rode my bicycle over unexpectedly and she was smoking alone on a table in her backyard. She didn't see me and I left. Now what? I don't want to seem like a hypocrite by suddenly not liking her, but it does make me feel differently. My friends have no advice. Please help. —Hates Cigarettes in Redding, Calif.

Brandon 21, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

Communication is key. Ask her why she started smoking, and how she feels about quitting. Don't “throw it in her face”. Make sure she understands you love her and aren't dropping your relationship over it. Quitting requires self-confidence and support — and also time. There is nothing worse than being scrutinized and held hostage by someone you love. Some girls in high school smoked because it was cool, others to deal with stress or lose weight. Many eventually realized it was stupid and wanted to avoid public scrutiny (which is increases greatly as you get into adulthood). Since she's smoking alone, she's already hiding from scrutiny — a good sign. Don't fight fire with fire, be supportive and there as a friend.

Colin 20, Sacramento, Calif. Ask me a question

Smoking isn't a deal-breaker for me. I contend that helping her quit is a noble goal. Oddly, there are very few rehab programs for nicotine addiction (note there are scads of them for marijuana even though it has fewer health and addiction problems). If the relationship is important, don't be pushy or you'll lose her.

Moriah 17, Rutland, Vt. Ask me a question

Tell her you saw her, explain your feelings towards cigarettes, and ask if she's willing to work on quitting. If she isn't, there are likely other important things she won't compromise on. But you must admit you saw her — secrets also pull relationships apart.

Brie 22, San Francisco Ask me a question

Be frank: “I saw you smoking the other day.” Let her know why you are so against smoking. It's important she understands your reasoning. Do her parents know? Having family support makes quitting easier. I've dated a few smokers, but now it's a deal-breaker. I hate the smell and can even tell if someone's been around a smoker. If she doesn't want to stop, better to end the relationship sooner than later.

Katelyn 19, Huntington Beach, Calif. Ask me a question

Without sounding suspicious or defensive, say, “I went to your house and saw you smoking. Why did you hide this from me?” Then listen carefully before making decisions.

Christina 21, Yuba City, Calif. Ask me a question

I never thought I'd date a smoker, but the guy I'm seeing smokes occasionally. I talked with him. He was raised around smokers and only smokes rarely to handle stress. It's good you have a stance. Now find out hers and take it from there.

Dear Hates Cigarettes: How much did you like this girl — that is, before “fire” was discovered? The panel is correct to approach this with compassionate communication. Every day, 3,200 U.S. teenagers light up for the first time and almost two-thirds of them get hooked. It's an incredibly easy thing to happen. AND it can un-happen. Be curious. Explore, as a concerned friend, what prompted her to smoke (for many there was a traumatic or stressful event) and ask if she wants help quitting. Odds are, she does. Colin brings up the stunning absence of outpatient rehab-style programs for nicotine addiction. The most effective quitting aids available are personal counseling, group counseling, hypnotherapy — or a doctor telling you to quit.

Editor's Note: Of all the smokers in the U.S., 90 percent started when they were under 18. Another 9 percent start by age 26. Only 1 percent of all smokers start after the adult brain fully kicks in (around age 25), when almost nobody will touch the  disgusting, smelly, expensive, cancer sticks. But before that, we feel INVINCIBLE! How could half a cigarette at a party, possible matter? Well, it does, as every smoker knows. Adolescents are thought to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of nicotine addiction, sometimes getting hooked on the first cigarette.

The tobacco industry is very excited about candy-flavored chewing tobacco, hookah and e-cigarettes, all of which are hooking even more of the pre-adult-brain crowd. We've done columns on hookah and e-cigarettes. They are well worth reading as these candy-flavored nicotine products seem "fun" and "innocent" but many kids are addicted to them (whether they admit it or not) and eventually combine their use with cigarettes. —Lauren

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  1. By Coley, age 45, from Monterey,CA on 03/12/2014

    I started smoking at 13 years old, for many of the reasons stated by the panel. I quit for the final time when I was 30. I am very active (hike, surf, swim, bike, yoga) and eat healthy. Last month I turned 45 I had a physical, one of the exams was for lung capacity. They asked me if I was a smoker. “No,” i replied, “I quit 15 years ago”  (I was feeling very proud of myself) According to the test my lung age is 68. 68? I am only 45!  That is 23 years older than I am! Holy S#%$! 
    I have gotten Bronchitis twice this winter. I had this horrifying thought the other morning, as I was coughing up some debris…I will die from lung problems.
    I am telling all of you this because I clearly see what a mistake I made when I smoked my first cigarette. I also know I was not going to listen to anyone tell me anything about quitting or what my life would look like in 30 years. But maybe,  just maybe your girlfriend or another young person will read this and say “oh hell no!  That is not going to happen to me!”

    Reply to this comment

    1. By LAUREN, from on 03/29/2014

      Dear Coley—You post a chilling testimonial that I guarantee will pierce the invincibility shield of at least some young people. The more the better! Thank you so much for taking the time to write in.—Lauren

      Reply to this comment

  2. By Jim, age 16, from Sacramento, CA on 03/13/2014

    My girlfriend doesn’t smoke, but her mom and older sister do.  They just live in a small 2 bedroom apartment and she and her sister have to share a small bedroom, so there’s no place to go to avoid the smoke.  My girlfriend doesn’t believe in smoking but says she’s used to the smoke as she’s been living in it her whole life and says it doesn’t bother her.  Still, I’m very concerned about the effect of second hand smoke on her.  I can’t stand their smoke-filled apartment so I avoid going there and it causes a rift between us, and she says I could get used to it and put up with it once in a while if I really cared about her.  She also says that I wouldn’t be around often enough to suffer any harm from second hand smoke.  However, I don’t want to “get used to it” and am not so sure that I wouldn’t suffer any harm.  It’s a tough situation, but I am sticking to my position and if she wants to break up with me over it, that is the way it will have to be.


    Reply to this comment

    1. By LAUREN, from on 03/29/2014

      Jim—You are correct that second hand smoke should be avoided. I am very sensitive to it myself and can feel it “exhaling” from my body hours later even after just spending 30 minutes in a small smoker’s home. I agree with you that not wanting to hang out there has nothing to do with caring about her… now, if you could only convince her of that! The trouble with growing up in second-hand smoke, you don’t notice it. Once she’s on her own, breathing clean air, she’ll be challenged to visit there herself. Good luck.—Lauren

      Reply to this comment

  3. By John Sndier, age 62, from Cottonwood, CA on 03/20/2014

    About quitting smoking.
    Forget it.
    Not starting is everything and would kill the cigarette industry within 30 years.
    Leroy and Dee were heavy smokers who knew this.  They told their sons Mike and Mel at a young age that they had 600 dollars in a bank account that they get when they graduated high school in 1969 if they never smoked one cigarette.
    They might have both tried one but never to their parents knowledge and they both collected their money.  They never did start smoking.
    The simple genius is never start, never quit.
    1) most smokers start when they are under 18 years old.
    2) most kids don’t get rewards for not smoking, only threatened punishment which heightens the excitement and gains peer approval.  And with a promised reward for not doing what you never have done anyway the question is this… “are you smart or are you stupid”.
    If all kids had guarenteed money at 18 for never taking one cigarette, then a friend would never offer them one.
    I think Bill Gates could fund this one.


    Reply to this comment

    1. By LAUREN, from on 03/29/2014

      John—Thank you for posting this comment. I have heard of parents doing this successfully—and forgot about it. I agree that it’s brilliant! And you’re also right that Bill Gates (or another philanthropist) (or even some school districts) could fund this one. It’s a no-brainer in long-term economics. Thank you again!—Lauren

      Reply to this comment

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