Bringing up the thorny topic of smoking with family members who continue to smoke is difficult. In our culture, conversations about smoking and quitting have become even more uncomfortable than talking about sex or money. If one person in a family full of smokers is trying to quit, the conversations and negotiations can become even more fraught. Will all the smokers quit together, or will someone continue to puff away around the quitter-to-be? And don't forget relapses kept secret from the family, and the guilt that smokers go through about them.
Many people seem to believe that if you can't quit smoking relatively easily, then it may be too difficult—even impossible—for you. This leads to a bunker mentality and causes some people to shut down and refuse to discuss the whole issue. I find the pessimism about quitting very sad because I've worked with so many "hopeless" cases who were really not hopeless at all; they just needed to learn how to solve a problem that was overwhelming them.
One of the biggest impacts of smoking on family life comes from the shocking amount of severe health problems and disability it causes. For a pregnant woman who smokes, her unborn child is at risk for preterm delivery, stillbirth, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. A father who smokes at home or in the car puts his family at risk for severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections and ear infections. And children whose parents smoke are more likely to become smokers themselves.
I've had many older people—smokers and nonsmokers alike—tell me they aren't so much afraid of dying, but of becoming disabled and dependent on those they love. As smokers age, they have more doctor visits and less independence than nonsmokers. In fact, for every smoker who dies from smoking, 20 more live with a serious illness from it. Smoking takes away the independence that many aging people prize most.
Smoking and quitting inevitably become life-and-death issues for families. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that cigarette smoking accounts "for approximately 443,000 deaths or 1 of every 5 deaths in the United States each year." This averages to more than 1,000 smokers lost every day...an epidemic that claims—every three days—as many people as were killed on 9/11. Although this epidemic unfolds in a largely silent and unrecognized manner, the magnitude of smoking-caused premature death leaves traumatized survivors in its wake. It is hard for people to grasp that 30 percent of all cancer patients and 30 percent of all heart disease patients in the U.S. are being treated for illnesses caused by smoking. In the end, smoking kills half of all long-term smokers. Twenty-five percent of all long-term smokers will eventually lose an average of 20 to 25 years of life expectancy.