I Have A Problem Regarding A Friend Who Smokes

Published: April 16, 2014
Dear I Have A Problem Regarding A Friend Who Smokes,

Hello, I have a problem regarding a friend who smokes. I care a lot about this friend and we were always very close until 2 days ago when I found out he smokes regularly (twice a day). He had hid it from me thinking I might not see him/treat him the same way. I assured him that I still cared about him and that I'd never change my views towards him, but then I attempted to talk about the issue and see if there was a solution. However, he got very defensive, saying that he'd never stop and that he knew I wouldn't take it well(I'm a bit of a health-nut). I think this may be partially due to his personal issues, as he's had a VERY hard life up until this point, but I don't see that as an excuse. I care about him so much and at this point, I don't know what to do! I desperately hope you can help me before I see him change more and more for the worse, but either way, thank you for taking the time to read this question - I really appreciate it.

Dear I Have A Problem Regarding A Friend Who Smokes,

TeenHealthFX can appreciate the concerns you may have about your friend smoking. In caring a lot of about this friend it is understandable that you wouldn’t want to see him doing something to hurt himself. In describing your reactions and his reactions to this situation, it sounds like one of the issues that might be getting in the way of your being able to be helpful to him is that he is perceiving you as relating to him more like an authority figure telling him what to do (hence the statement that he’ll never stop), as well as experiencing you as judgmental (hence the hiding it from you because you might not see him or treat him in the same way). If you care about your friend and want to have a positive influence in this situation, FX would say that it will be very important for you not to relate to him in a judgmental way or in a way that might feel to him like a parent telling him what to do. It will be very helpful for you to consider your words and tone in how you speak to him. You could say something like, “I’m not here to tell you what to do and I really hope I’m not coming across as critical or judgmental. I just want you to understand that I care about you and because I care about you it makes me sad and worried to see you doing something that is hurtful to your body.” You could also ask him to tell you if you are coming across as critical or “parent-like” at any point so that you can become more aware of it and work on not coming across that way, as well as have him explain what’s hard for him about your relating in that way and what he needs from you instead.

You can express your concerns to your friend about his smoking and you can let him know that you are here for him if he decides to quit and needs help with that. But perhaps how you could be more helpful to him right now is to be there in whatever way you can given the “hard life” he has had. If your friend is dealing with a lot of stress, sadness and/or anger, it is not surprising he may act out in some way or do something (like smoking) that is hurtful rather than loving towards himself. Rather than focusing on how he needs to stop smoking, perhaps you could encourage him to seek out help with the personal issues he is dealing with so he can work through whatever difficult feelings and situations he has had to endure, as well as to develop healthier coping mechanisms. You could encourage him to meet with his school counselor or to meet with a private therapist. You can ask him how you can be helpful to him as a friend given what he is going through. Because the fact is that if he effectively deals with these issues, then there is a greater chance he will not be so drawn to the smoking.

FX can appreciate the complexity of these types of situations, so if you find you are in need of some guidance or support with how to deal with this situation, please speak to a trusted adult such as a parent, extended family member or school counselor.

If you think it could be helpful to your friend, you can pass the following information onto him:

If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.