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Smoking cessation two by two

To quit smoking is not easy. Support from one's partner can help – but only if the smokers have developed skills of their own that help them to stop. This has been shown by a study funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

It is quite common to find couples where one partner does not smoke while the other is a smoker who wishes to stop. What can both of them do to help achieve the smoker's goal?

Seeking to find an answer to this question, the psychologist Urte Scholz, who teaches at the University of Constance, and her team from the University of Zurich studied 99 cohabiting, heterosexual couples. The researchers asked the participants to fill in a questionnaire on their behaviour and on support received from their partner two weeks before the smoker had quit, and again a month after the quit date. In addition, the successful cessation of smoking was verified by means of a test which measures the amount of carbon monoxide in the breath.

Self-efficacy and Support

The result: support from their partners is helpful to smokers who wish to stop and it increases their chances of success, provided that they have developed skills of their own that help them to abstain. Smokers who display a high degree of "self-efficacy" – confidence in their ability to stop smoking despite difficulties – and who also receive the right kind of support from their partner are more likely to break the habit. Such support could involve their partner reminding them of their plan to quit as well as encouraging and supporting them in critical situations.

Careful planning

The same is true of the coping strategies that the smoker plans to apply in difficult situations (for instance, taking a chewing gum or being reminded of one's wish to quit when spending an evening in the company of smokers and feeling an uncontrollable craving for a cigarette). Smokers who plan carefully and – again – receive the right kind of support from their partners are more likely to stop for good.

When occurring on their own, self-efficacy, coping strategies and social support did not increase the chances of quitting. The desired result was only achieved through a combination of individual competences and social support. Of the 99 smokers, 34 persons (32%) said that they had not suffered any relapses since quitting. The biochemical test proved this to be true.

Ochsner, S., Luszczynska, A., Stadler, G., Knoll, N., Hornung, R., Scholz, U. (in press). The interplay of received social support and self-regulatory factors in smoking cessation. Psychology & Health. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2013.818674

(Manuscript available from the SNSF; e-mail:

Prof Dr Urte Scholz
University of Constance
Psychology Department
D - 78457 Constance
Phone: +49 (0)7531 88 3355

Abteilung Kommunikation | idw
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