People trying to give up smoking should do it in pairs, according to a study that found active support works better than nagging.
"Quitting smoking can be a lonely endeavour," said study author Magda Lampridou, of Imperial College London.
"People feel left out when they skip the smoke break at work or avoid social occasions. On top of that, there are nicotine withdrawal symptoms." Partners can distract each other from cravings by going for a walk or going to the cinema, researchers found. They can also encourage replacement activities like eating healthy food or mediating when alone.
"Active support works best, rather than nagging," she said.
The study looked at the supporting role married or cohabitant partners might have in getting someone to stop smoking. They looked at 222 smokers who were at high risk of cardiovascular disease or had suffered heart attack. Partners were also recruited – 99 were current smokers, 40 were ex-smokers and 83 had never smoked.
The couples went to preventative cardiology programmes and during a 16-week programme they were offered nicotine replacement therapy with patches and gum. In one programme, partners could choose a prescription drug – varenicline – instead.
At the end of the programme, 64 per cent of patients and 75 per cent of partners had quit, compared to none and 55 per cent at the start.
The odds of quitting smoking were more than five times higher for couples who tried to quit together as opposed to patients trying to stop alone.
"Previous research has shown that ex-smokers can also positively influence their spouse's attempts to quit, but in this study the effect was not statistically significant," said Ms Lampridou.
"As for non-smoking partners, there is a strong risk that they will adopt their spouse's habit." Ms Lampridou noted that research is needed to confirm the findings in smokers who are otherwise healthy.
Ninety per cent of people at risk of cardiovascular disease are smokers and it is estimated to cost the NHS more than £2.7 billion a year.