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Butt out: Why a smoking partner could harm your chances of quitting

Want to quit the cigarettes? You’re much more likely to succeed if you don’t live with other smokers, new research shows.  

The study, by Monash University’s Centre for Health Economics and the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, crunched data from about 12,700 Australians to forecast the likelihood of people quitting within different household types.

It predicted that over a 10-year period, in cases where smokers lived with non-smokers, the number of people smoking would fall by 43 percent.

Among people living alone, the proportion of people smoking decreased by 26 per cent over the decade, while those living with a partner who smoked fared only slightly better at 28 per cent.

“In general, living with a partner is good – it helps you quit,” says study author Karinna Saxby, a research fellow at Monash University’s Centre for Health Economics.

“But then if you’re living with a smoking partner, you may as well be living alone, that’s how much that negates that positive effect.”

Ms Saxby said smoking rates have significantly declined in the past few decades, but encouraging the remaining smokers to quit remains a major public health challenge.

This study is different to most, because it looked at the behaviours of entire households, rather than just individual smokers, she said

“Smoking is widely accepted as a social activity but the influence of household members and their smoking behaviour has received limited attention.”

Ms Saxby said the presence of at least one other smoker in the house is associated with significantly higher odds of relapse.

“However across all relationship types, cohabiting with a spouse who smoked was the strongest predictor of relapse. If your partner’s smoking as well, it’s just so much harder to quit,” she said.

“These findings suggest that decisions to quit are not made in isolation.”

She gives the example of her father Peter, who had to quit after suffering a heart attack. However his partner Deb, a fellow smoker, didn’t receive the same medical support he did so found it more difficult to give up the habit initially.

Ms Saxby said the study also showed that the proportion of smokers living with other smoking household members increased by 15 per cent between 2011 and 2019.

Because you’re less likely to quit and stop smoking if you’re living with another smoking household member, it means that over time, people who are still smoking are becoming more concentrated within smoking households.”

Those living with smoking household members were less likely to “quit and stay quit”, she said.

Ms Saxby hopes the latest research will inform future smoking campaigns or interventions.

Say if you’re a smoker and you visit a GP and you’re trying to quit smoking, I think there needs to be more of a focus at the household level and the household getting the support they need to quit smoking together.”

This would likely prove far more effective than lifting taxes on cigarettes even further, she said.

“We’re at this point where taxes are so high that further increases won’t increase quit rates amongst longer-term smokers much at all. We’re actually just penalising low-income people now.”

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