Quitline calls for non-judgmental support for smokers

Quitline clinical lead Lyndy Matthews says if we want to help friends and family achieve their New Year quit smoking resolutions, we may need to change the way we support them.

Almost 26,000 smokers reached out to Quitline for help in the year ending 30 June 2020. More than 28% of them were smoke-free after four weeks. Despite this success, and the work of face-to-face smoking cessation groups, close to half a million people still smoke every day in New Zealand. 

Dr Matthews says the way we talk to friends or whanau about their smoking can make a significant difference to whether they feel motivated to kick the habit or keep it.  

“Some of us apply value judgements when we see people we know light up, often because we are concerned for them.

“But many people still smoking in Aotearoa have had too much experience of being judged for things they have no control over – their ethnicity, their job status, where they live, and the list goes on. They are highly sensitive to being ‘judged’. Any whiff of it will not only have the opposite effect, it may alienate the very person you are trying to help.”

Most smokers already feel powerful amounts of shame each time they light a cigarette, continues Dr Matthews. “Not only does shame or whakama feed into issues of self-worth, it can stop smokers from reaching out for help.”

She offers the following talk tips for those supporting their friends and whānau to stop smoking:

  • If someone tells you they want to quit, celebrate this milestone with them. Positive talk is key.
  • If they regress a little and smoke a few, that’s ok. Let them know it’s very normal to have a snakes and ladders approach to quitting. Remind them it’s what they do next that matters.
  • Let them know that they’re not alone.  People trying to quit are ‘in it together’; online support can be the ‘team’ they carry in their pocket.
  • Avoid telling smokers what to do, or how they should change. Instead, invite them to consider what changes they would like to make.
  • Give them permission to have a go at quitting: ‘what have you got to lose?’

National Telehealth Service, director of population health, Angela Johnson, says many service users experience an increase in self-worth when they stop smoking.

“Quitting smoking can be a powerful motivator for people to then make other changes in their lives. There is a sense of: ‘if I can do this, what else can I do?’ says Mrs Johnson.

Some people may be experiencing multiple barriers to wellness. “Living in difficult circumstances doesn’t need to stop people giving up cigarettes. Sometimes, it is about realising that with support this could be the one thing they can positively change, or do something about.

“If there are several family members smoking, a whole-of-whānau approach may be worth trying. This can break the cycle and then offer a smoke-free future for tamariki.

“Quitline is available 24/7, via text, phone, webchat for anyone who wants to stop smoking. And we’ll support you all the way, if you want,” says Mrs Johnson.  


For interviews or further information please contact: Penny Hartill, external communications consultant – 021 721 424, penny.hartill@homecaremedical.co.nz

Editor’s Notes:

Quitline is part of the National Telehealth Service, run by social enterprise Homecare Medical since 2015.

The National Telehealth Service provides the people of Aotearoa New Zealand with free health, wellness and injury advice, support and information, 24 hours a day, seven days a week across seven digital channels. The services include Healthline, the COVID-19 Helpline, 1737 – Need to Talk? As well as Quitline.

Homecare Medical also runs services independent of the National Telehealth Service including Employer Advice Line, the national sexual harm helpline Safe to talk, Puāwaitanga, the cervical and bowel national screening coordination centres, and General Practice After Hours services.

Its team of more than 600 includes registered nurses, mental health nurses, psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, counsellors, doctors, Poisons Officers, Health Advisors, paramedics, sexual harm professionals, and emergency triage nurses working from contact centres in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch and from their homes all over New Zealand.

Homecare Medical is owned by ProCare and Pegasus Health. It is co-funded by the Ministry of Health, ACC, Te Hiringa Hauora Health Promotion Agency, Ministry of Social Development, and the Department of Corrections. www.homecaremedical.co.nz