Straight Talk Advice

Oct 03, 2007

Joe Camel no longer Joe Cool

Dear Straight Talk: My girlfriend smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. We’re both 17. She has been smoking since she was 14. She really wants to quit but every time she goes a couple of days without a cigarette, something comes up. Maybe it’s an exam, or three papers are due at once, or her parents are flipping out. Something always happens to stress her out, which causes her to start up again. Has anyone on the teen panel been through this? I want to support her and not nag. What do I do? — C.H., Sacramento

From Kenny, 19: Stress is definitely my number-one trigger, too, also in the form of homework. For me, it helps that my friends hack and gag when I light up. It reminds me how bad it is. My girlfriend uses supportive tactics: if she notices I’m getting jittery for a cigarette, she’ll say, “sit still for awhile, you’ll be okay.” She successfully quit smoking so that gives her credentials, but maybe you could try it with your girlfriend, too.

From Sawyer, 16: I played with cigarettes for six months and never felt addicted until recently. I hate it. Tell your girlfriend to go for a run every time she gets the urge to smoke. That’s what I do. It makes the feeling go away. If it comes back, I run till my lungs burn; then they don’t want the smoke. 

From Mary 17: Your friend needs to find other ways to deal with her stress. She is just finding excuses to smoke.

From Farren, 19: It’s really hard to quit cold turkey, even with amazing willpower. Maybe she could taper off with the nicotine patch while, at the same time, replacing the negative habit with a positive, healthy habit. For instance, every time she wants a cigarette, she does a few exercises to increase her adrenaline, which will also boost her endorphins.

From Mariah, 15: Take her to see someone who is suffering from a disease caused by smoking.

From Hannah, 16: I have friends who take fun comfort in this nasty, devastating habit and it truly breaks my heart. I know it seems like a waste of time saying how much you dislike it over and over, but that’s being there for her.

Dear C.H.: The teen panel has some excellent ideas for you. I was amazed to hear that young smokers are grateful for pressure from their friends — and that friends aren’t giving up on friends who smoke. According to studies, this “positive” peer pressure is the biggest reason teen smoking is down 30 percent from 10 years ago. You might ask your girlfriend what type of pressure she would like from you, if any. If she wants it, make sure it has an “I care” tone or it will backfire. And by all means, be sensitive to her moods.

In all reality, however, your girlfriend will need more help than this to quit. For a seasoned smoking veteran, which she is, the most successful quit rate comes from hypnotherapy. In a light hypnotic trance, the smoker chooses to replace her smoking habit with a habit or habits that are healthy and desirable for her, while incurring no withdrawal symptoms.

University of Iowa researchers studied 72,000 smokers who tried to quit and found hypnosis to be the most effective method with a 30 percent quit rate (modern hypnotic techniques are much higher at around 60 percent). Nicotine replacement products like gum and patches ran at about 10 percent. The least successful method was advice from a doctor, which appeared to convince almost nobody. Sheer willpower was not much better at around 6 percent.

With cigarettes at $5 a pack, in two months, your girlfriend could pay for her hypnotherapy to quit. After that, the extra money will be hers to enjoy.

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