How to Quit Smoking When You’re Surrounded by Smokers

You know all about the negative effects of smoking, and have finally made the smart decision to quit. You’ve been doing a good job of steering clear so far—and then maybe you’re invited to a happy hour after work or to a party at someone’s house or you’re just sitting outside getting some fresh air during your break at work…and find yourself suddenly surrounded by smokers.

Whether you’ve been abstinent for one day or one year, the smell and social nature of smoking can be a strong temptation. So how can you kick the habit for good when your friends, family or co-workers are still puffing away?

Announce your intentions: V.J. Sleight, a former smoker, trained tobacco treatment specialist and author of "How to Win While Quitting Smoking," says the most important step is to talk to the smokers in your life about your decision—before you quit. Explain why it’s important for you to be smoke-free, or perhaps why your doctor has advised it. Recognize that the announcement could cause a shift in your relationship, whether it is a spouse, significant other, adult child, parent or roommate.

Set some ground rules: If you live with a smoker, designate certain zones where smoking will be permitted. Ask the smoker not to not leave dirty ashtrays or open cigarette packs out to prevent temptation. "If they refuse to be supportive, you must be overly prepared and cautious," says Sleight. "You can still quit, but your journey may be more difficult. Decide that no matter what, their behavior won’t influence your quest for freedom from nicotine."

Resist the idea that you have to smoke to fit in. Luke Chao, a hypnotherapist who has helped hundreds of smokers kick the habit, reminds his clients that being a non-smoker is completely normal for a human being. "You'll rarely be the only non-smoker in a group, and even when you are, it means you're the only person who's setting a good example," he points out. "Rather than letting smokers drag you back into old habits, focus on demonstrating for your friends and colleagues that staying smoke-free is possible."

Rehearse the scenario beforehand. Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, suggests imagining standing in a group and being offered a cigarette. "Carry out the ‘play’ in two fashions: accepting it and denying it. Let yourself imagine the feeling of accepting it and then feeling regret and disappointment afterward, whereas if you rejected the cigarette, you’d feel empowered with self-control and restraint," he said. "By allowing yourself time to flesh out both avenues, you will be more likely to decline the next cigarette offer."

Try to make it a group effort: You might be surprised by how many of the smokers in your life actually wish they could quit. According to Dr. Jared Heathman, studies show that over 70 percent of people who smoke want to stop. "If you find yourself surrounded by other smokers, consider bringing up a group strategy toward smoking cessation," he suggests. "Mutual support and fighting cravings together can increase the odds that everyone is successful."

Leave when they light up: Sleight suggests telling friends, family and co-workers that you might have to avoid them while they are smoking and will rejoin them after their cigarette is out. "Don’t sit with them when they smoke, even if it isn’t an overwhelming temptation," she says. "When you smell smoke, your brain’s desire for nicotine can trick you into believing you can have ‘just one’ to be social."

Cut toxic people out of your circle. If after you’ve explained your decision and the importance of quitting for your health, certain people insist on trying to sabotage or undermine your efforts, you may need to start avoiding them until you feel secure in your new, healthy lifestyle.

With persistence, patience and the right support system, you will eventually triumph over your nicotine dependence—and you might just be surprised by some of the smokers in your life. You may find that they are ultimately inspired by your success and decide to join you in quitting.