November 4, 2011 - submitted by Lliam, United States of America

Q. ID: 2345

I am a 16 year old guy having trouble with a parent who smokes. My mother has been smoking on and off for years, but she's been doing it a lot lately. I've tried countless times to get her to quit over the years, but all my attempts have failed so far. Today, while driving home, I got on her nerves - and like usual, she pulls out a cigarette and starts smoking in the car. I bring up the question "Mom, why do you have to smoke" and like usual, she gets mad and tell me to stop talking about it. I didn't want to - I kept on talking about it as she ignored me, and when we got home, she went off on me because I kept bugging her about it.
I hate to admit it, but I don't think I'm mature enough to really stand up to her and tell her how I truly feel about her smoking problems. My mother means the world to me; she does everything for me, and is just an all around great person - but when it comes to her smoking and thinking about the damage she is doing to herself, it scares me thinking of what could result from it in the future... So I'm asking very kindly if maybe you could lend me a hand here, and tell me how I can really confront her about this. Lliam.

The Oracle replies:

I totally understand your concerns being an ex-smoker myself and having parents who used to smoke. There are some who argue that parents who smoke are selfish as it could impact on their children's health. However, your mother is an adult; it may be a habit, an addiction or it alleviates stress etc. but whatever the reason, she chooses to continue to smoke. I feel you need to respect her decision or at the very least accept it. I know that mean seem controversial but realistically you may be asking more of her than you realise.
I do feel that you have a right to ask and establish ground rules where you are involved. For example, her smoking in the car with you isn't acceptable to you as you choose NOT to smoke and therefore choose not to inhale her smoke.
People with addictions are bad habits are usually defensive when confronted so choose your moment to talk to her wisely and don't judge her or try to emotionally blackmail her - though asking if she'd like for you to become a smoker in the future might prove interesting...
If you ask your Mum whether she wishes she could stop and if so, is there anything the two of you could do together to try and make that possible. That may lead to a discussion about alternatives and you can offer understanding and support where possible. Giving up smoking is hard and the withdrawals could make her very irritable so you'd have to be patient with her - if she does indeed decide to try. Her reaching for a cigarette when she's stressed out is a natural reaction for her and you may need to understand that dependancy. Ultimately the decision is hers. On a positive note this could mean you yourself never fall under the evil spell of nicotine! Good luck. Over to you.

This is such a hard circumstance for you - I hear that, and my heart just breaks for you Lliam. I can tell you from my own personal experience (I am a recovering alcoholic) that everything you are doing is right. Telling your Mom you love her and you are concerned for her health is honest. However, you must leave it at that. She knows you do not like what she is doing, and unfortunately she is addicted to cigarettes. Addiction is a cunning, baffling, powerful disease. It wasn't until I had a pretty scary experience that I realized my life was slipping away from me, and I needed to get help. Maybe that is what will happen for your Mom. Most of the time, when people get in enough pain, or get scared enough, they do something different. It doesn't matter how old or young you are - you are a loving child who is trying to help your Mom in the best way you know how. My Mom used to smoke and one day, I sent her a book called "The Easy Way to Stop Smoking" by Allen Carr. I ordered it online and had it mailed to her. I never said a word about it. A year later, she had stopped. I will pray that your Mom gets a wake-up call soon. And I will pray for your heart. Amy S.

As someone who used to smoke as a teenager and through my 20s and have struggled with quitting on and off for years, I can sympathize with both you and your mother. The simple fact about smoking is that although it's bad for you, for many people it's a comforting experience. It can be calming, fill in the blank periods of your day, and help with stress relief. Not to mention it's physically addicting and difficult to shake as a habit. In my experience, smokers hate to hear people, especially family members, complain about their smoking. Your mother knows smoking is bad and she knows she should quit. She knows it bothers you and that she's eventually going to reap the consequences of the habit later in life. But something in her life - stress, job, family issues, relationships - something is a big enough stress to outweigh this. It's the same reason people drink, eat bad food, watch too much TV, etc. It's distracting. It helps you get away from your real problems, whatever they are. Let your mother decide to quit on her own terms and try to bite your tongue and let her smoke. The important thing you should be saying is how you feel about her - let her know you love her and that she "means the world" to you. Try to help her do other things to distract her from whatever is stressing her out. There's really nothing you can do to get her to quit smoking faster than she wants to. Just be supportive and positive for her in her life and the smoking may take care of itself. Matthew.

I am going through the same thing, I am a 16 year old girl and my father has been smoking for over a decade and it breaks my heart. Every since we were young, my siblings and I would urge our father not to smoke. Over the years he has cut down on how much he smokes, but he still hasn't quit completely. I live in fear of what could happen to him in the future and it has been really hard for me to get through to him. Even though she does not like you like you bugging her about it (my father doesn't like it either), try to be as persistent as possible, tell her everyday, and hopefully one day it will get through to her. But for now, just so you know, you are not alone in what you are going through. Best of luck Lliam. Fiona.

I am not so sure if I can be in the position of giving you a solution since I do smoke. Your honest question triggered me in the sense that I got in your shoes and imagine myself asked the same question by my child "Pap, why do you have to smoke?". The thing is that most smokers have connected this killing habit with various moments of their life. Some smoke when they go out, when they are happy, when they are sad, when they are feeling insecure. Others in moments of inspiration. Anyhow the wrong reasons as stated and before are not the case now but how to reverse the situation and point out the correct reasons for quitting it once and for good.
Direct questions like why do you smoke or discussions of how harmful is smoking; don't do any good for the smoker and may end up on the opposite from the desired result.
My suggestion is to try to highlight the things that a smoker is unable to do with someone that he really loves due to smoking. Another strong argument is the future moments that will miss spending with his beloved people due to smoking.
For example a smoker may argue and say that he can live and progress his life without bicycling and jogging with his children but he will definitely seriously consider the moments that he will lose playing with his children's children. In order to kill smoking you have to exchange and trade a moment with a better brighter moment. You know this smokers mind set is a really complicated one and in order to kill a moment you need to deliver and restore to life another one that is hidden for all the wrong reasons. Be patient, caring but persistent in a way that don't offend the others choices. Shed light to moments that are smoke free.
Wish you all the best and thank you for making me realize also things for myself while replying to you. John from Athens, Greece.

Although I'm a smoker my self I really appreciate you trying to pursuade your mother to stop, which of course is the best thing to do.
When smokers get nervous, excited or want to relax, a little monster inside tells them they can by lighting up a cigarette. We smokers fool ourselves. However when we feel others, even loved ones, would like to "deny" us this "pleasure", we often feel offended, confronted and have problems dealing with the energy behind their wish for us to stop, and whoops there is the monster again. A way might be to use a moment in which your mother feels balanced, at ease. Make sure you are calm and balanced as well Give her hope. Tell her you believe she can. Tell her you believe she would be a more radiant, stronger, more beautiful, physically and mentally better person. Remain positive, do not try to impose your will or use words to emphasize your worries. No need to tell how bad it is, she knows and that's negative energy calling the monster again. Tell her what she could do with the money spared, things she might have wanted a long time. Tell her you love her inspite of anything but hope and trust she will find the inner strength to blossom for the full 100% she can. Cause that is your goal, not for her to stop, for her to become the best person she can be, that will be your focus. Anton.

I understand how you feel. I'm currently dealing with the same problem with my own mother. Parents are hard to talk to when you want to protect them from their harmful choices. But try this; sit her down and let her feel the emotional distress it's causing you. Try opening up to her and letting her know how its hurting her and in turn hurting you. Maybe you can find out what's stressing her out and in turn causing her to smoke more often. Stay strong and don't be afraid to talk to her. But remember you don't have to be confrontational to make a point to her. Try not to approach her out of anger, it'll only stress her out more and lead her to lighting another cigarette. Tell her you love her and you're there when she needs someone to talk to. Help her see and possibly put in prospective that her health is important and remind her how much she is loved and needed. Try to get her to turn to you instead of a cigarette. Juno.

Well Lliam, let me tell you I have/had the very same problem. The only difference is that thing is with my mom and my two older brothers. I honestly think you should stand up and tell her. You should do it, since she smokes when she's with you. Tell her that you are the one who have more chances of getting cancer, not her. Because you are a passive smoker. I told this to my family and they're trying to solve this problem. My brothers don't smoke when I'm around anymore. So I've accomplished something. But really, tell her or you'll regret. I wish you luck with that. Greetings from Ecuador, Camila.

While you have every right to want your mother to stop smoking because you love her so very much, you should consider that we are only in control of ourselves. It's hard to accept that, but it might help. I used to be a smoker myself, and my son (who was 10 at the time) would look at me and tell me that he's going to smoke when he gets older if I don't stop! It really affected me.. because we all know it's very bad for our health and I didn't want to think of my son hurting his own body like that.
While threats and nagging may not work for you & your mom, gently suggesting that you're concerned for her health may be all you can do. Just remember, you're only in control of YOU, so love your mom with all your heart, and you never know.. maybe one day she'll decide on her own to quit! Teresa.

Lliam, this is a tough situation, but there are ways to reach your mom that can be more effective. As a mother who has heeded a suggestion made by her son (he liked having me run with him), I might be able to help. The next time you mention your concern about your mother's smoking, do it when she isn't smoking and when she isn't distracted by another task like driving. Talk to her when she is relaxed, and be honest with her about your concern for her health. Let her know it's because you love her and want to have her in your life for a long time. Follow that up with a hug, even if she gets irritated that you've mentioned it again. Trust me, it will have an impact. However, it's no guarantee she will change her habit. An addiction is a tough thing to overcome, even when there are very good intentions. With love, patience and a lot of encouragement from you, she is more likely to do it. Don't be critical of her when she does smoke. Instead, every time she lights up, tell her you love her. She'll get the point, but in a kind and gentle way. Bottom line is, to break this habit, your mother is going to have to want to quit smoking just as much as you want her to quit. Wishing you all the best in your desire to help your mother live life in a healthy way. Sandy.

As an ex-smoker, I understand what your mother is doing. When you are addicted to something, you can't imagine life without it. It is physically painful when you can't get it, and all you think about is getting your next fix. It's no different than any other drug, and it kills all the same. That being said, people who continue to indulge in bad habits are acting selfishly. I was, but I could afford to be selfish. Your mother cannot. She has you, and you need her. Next time you see your mother smoking, ask her if she plans to be there for the big moments in your life. Ask her if she ever wants to see you fall in love, get married, have children, be successful, or change the world. Ask her these things, and then ask her to really think about it, instead of just dismissing it. She needs to realize that her decision to smoke is hurting you, and you should never be afraid to tell her that. On the contrary, you should be VERY afraid not to. After she thinks about it, and if she decides to change, she is going to need your help. You can't go half way - you need to be there for her as she fights off this addiction, and be understanding when she falters. Be her support system so that she can be yours for years to come. Matt.

Confronting people you love about there issues is perhaps one of the hardest things for us to do. When I have been faced with this, the natural thing to do is stop when they get annoyed at you because you don't want to hurt your relationship. The reason they may get uptight and agressive towards you when you point out their flaws is because they know they need change in their lives. They see that it hurts you, and they know they should stop but they simply are unwilling to give the habit up. So that leaves the question what can you do? You cannot force them to quit, that is their choice alone and only they can do that. What you can do is to continue to respond in love. Even though it hurts, keep reminding your mother that you care about her deeply, and so want to see her quit smoking. I used tobacco heavily in the past. What helped me quit was how much my friends discouraged it. Eventually, one day I quit, and have been sober ever since. The influence of loved ones truly does affect us. Even if we ignore it at first, it will continue to gnaw at us, if they keep reminding us of what we need to change. So, even though it is hard, continue to remind your mother of why she needs to quit smoking, and that it is because you are her son and love more than anything. T.S.

First off, let me say that my parents smoke. My dad smokes a pack a day and has for around 35 years now. When I was your age I used to ask him to stop smoking as a birthday present (which my step brothers also tried pulling), and of course it doesn't work. From a medical perspective (I am a third year medical student), Smoking is INCREDIBLY difficult to stop. Just imagine your fav thing in the world to eat/drink. Now, take your love for that, multiply it by 1000 so it becomes a harmful addiction, and then be told to stop and never touch it again. People know it's bad for them, but it's not just the actual smoke they're addicted to. It has become a habit. Their hands and mouths have been habituated over the years so their fingers will automatically reach for a cigarette, and for those that have managed to quit, many have said that part is one of the tougher things to get over. They often times have to find some kind of replacement, like knitting (keeps the hands occupied) and chewing gum (something for the mouth to do). The way to change things in life is to do it in a positive way. Believe me, she knows how you feel. Some part of her may want to change to and that's why she acts like she does. So tell her once, in a positive light, tell her you'll support her, and then leave it. Nothing will change until SHE WANTS it to, but she has to want it. Good luck and remember, be caring and supportive and hope for the best! Lauren.

I've walked in your shoes and your mom's too! She's addicted to nicotine. Take away all the other issues to do with smoking, and it comes down to the fact that smokers are addicts like any other. She gets angry and defensive, because she knows full well that it's bad for her and bad for you - but she can't stop. She probably feels helpless and hopeless about it too. I grew up in a household with two parents who smoked. They did so my entire childhood and my dad still smokes. And they did it even though they had two children with asthma, and clearly both knew better ( my dad's a doctor, for goodness sake). My mom finally quit recently, because she has emphysema. Addicts find a plethora of reasons to keep on using. You need to see her in this light. I suggest that every time she lights up, you remove yourself, if it's safe, from her presence. Obviously, not when she's driving! You can't make her quit, but you don't have to sit there and subject yourself to the smoke or watch her hurt herself. I gave up a long time ago trying to convince, cajole, plead and beg my parents to stop smoking. I'm glad I quit many years ago, before having my kids. By the way, when she does see the light, she'll need plenty of your support, because quitting will be the hardest thing she'll ever do. Good luck to you both! Aimee.

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