Monday, August 3, 2015

Tobacco Cessation: Supporting a Coworker

Esther Rogers, employee assistance program counselor at the University of South Alabama
On Aug. 1, 2015, the University of South Alabama and USA Health System became tobacco-free campuses. As part of this transition, the university offers assistance to employees and students who wish to stop using tobacco products, including smokeless and e-cigarettes, through several tobacco cessation programs. This article is the fourth of a four-part series about tobacco cessation. View Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

The road to quitting smoking or ending tobacco use is a long one and often times cannot be done alone. Esther Rogers, employee assistance program counselor at USA, said people who are trying to quit often ask someone close to them to be their support person.

Someone who is trying to quit might ask their support person to:
•    Be honest
•    Don’t be judgmental
•    Tell me when my attitude or demeanor gets too rough
•    Be there for me and do this with me (examples are eating healthy and avoiding smoking areas)

Rogers said that if you agree to be a coworker’s support person, there are several things you can do to help them through the quitting process. “First, make sure you have a supportive and positive outlook,” she said. “Know that being a support person means you are committing to being there for your coworker when they need you. Know this might span over a couple of weeks to several months.”

Rogers said let your coworker know you feel honored to offer support and that the two of you will work through the process together. Another way to be supportive is to understand what your coworker is going through. Educate yourself on what the quitting process is and its effects. You could also help the person who is quitting find tools that will help them reach and maintain a new tobacco-free lifestyle. This could include creating an exercise plan, a food plan or getting involved with a new hobby.

If the person relapses, don’t refer to it as a failure. Let them know this is often part of the quitting process, and help them look at the situation as a chance to learn what to do for future attempts. For example, Rogers suggest asking a series of questions to help the person work through the relapse:
•    What caused the relapse?
•    How can you avoid that trigger in the future?
•    How can you get back on track?

Be sure to celebrate their attempts at quitting throughout the process and encourage positive self-talk.

“Keep in mind you are in a work environment and may not be able to stop every time the person is having a craving, a withdrawal symptom or experiencing a trigger,” Rogers said. “Make sure you establish guidelines and a plan for what the person can do if you are not available at that particular moment. Things they can do include sucking on a lifesaver, taking a walk or calling a helpline.” 

Rogers also said someone who is quitting smoking may not want others to know. If your coworker is quitting and did not ask you to be their support person, do not talk to them about it unless you have a close personal relationship with them. This could cross a boundary and cause the person to become defensive, feel pressured into quitting or feel they are being monitored.

For more information on quitting, visit For help locating a primary care physician with USA Physicians Group call (251) 434-3711.

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