New Years Day is the probably the single biggest day for health in the LGBT communities -- that's when nearly 1/3 of the people affected by our top health issue, smoking, resolve to quit. LGBT people smoke cigarettes at rates that are 68 percent higher than the general population; that means smoking affects more of us than any other single health problem. Unfortunately -- each LGBT smoker risks losing an average of 10-20 years off their lives. Luckily there is a cure for smoking, and even minutes after you stop your health starts to improve.
Most all smokers want to quit and most of them have already tried to stop in the past but nicotine addiction is a stubborn monkey to get off your back. Even after the physiological addiction is gone, the siren song of the lifelong habit can pull you back towards smoking for years. For many people who plan to quit on the New Year, resolve starts to fade after a few days, especially when we're tackling something as big as smoking. That's where you come in. The more you know about how to help them. The more you can support them in finally becoming smoke-free.
If your friend doesn't know how to start the best first step is simply having them call your state tobacco quitline. The quitlines incorporate the latest research into their free counseling. Wherever you live, you can reach your local quitline by calling 1-800-QUITNOW. CenterLink's Network for LGBT Health Equity, has trained many quitline providers in LGBT cultural competency. So you should feel comfortable in talking about being LGBT. In fact, since our higher smoking rates show being LGBT is related to smoking status, try not to leave it out. If, however, you have a less than welcoming experience on the quitline, contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, we'll be happy to offer that particular quitline a little more training!
Through the quitline counselor, your smoking friend will be encouraged to start paying attention to when they smoke and why. In many cases they'll be urged to avoid those places where they usually light up; if they usually smoke at the morning coffee shop, don't even drive by it anymore. If they smoke at bars, stop going to bars for a while. They'll also be advised to assemble all the supports they can before they actually set a quitdate. Any smoker will have the highest odds of staying smoke-free if they use a combination quitting method: get nicotine replacement therapy (like patches, gum, lozenges), get medication from a doctor (Chantix or Wellbutrin can work for some people), and add in counseling (like the quitlines give)!
So, hopefully your friend has called the quitline, seen a doctor, stocked up on nicotine replacement therapy, tracked their smoking habits for a while... and now the quit day has arrived. How do you help now? Keep checking in with them. Remind them each urge to smoke passes very quickly. Keep them occupied. Send them inspirational stories like the ones CDC has prepared here or this great video on LGBT smoking by Legacy foundation. If you're a smoker yourself, don't be defensive or standoffish -- but definitely don't smoke around them. Consider going to a workshop or a class with them. Mostly, keep being a friend.
Quitting smoking isn't an event -- it's a journey. Most smokers need to make multiple attempts to stop before they succeed. That means your friend could very well start smoking again. Please don't view that as a failure. The truth is that every time you stop smoking for even a day, you're a step closer to stopping forever. So if your friend restarts, just think of them as preparing for their next cessation attempt. And if they do stop smoking, also be prepared for how long they might struggle with the urge to smoke. It's not at all uncommon for some people to have cravings years after they've stopped smoking. Of course if they do slip, they'll need your support again to get back on track.
One of the biggest predictors of cessation success is how much the smoker has confidence they can stop. This is where friendship is most important. Have faith in them and show it, because odds are extremely high they will be smoke-free someday. Until then, stand fast to support them -- because they really are in a fight for their life and for our communities' health.