DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: Ugh, I just found out my girlfriend smokes. I really like her, but now I'm torn. It's how I was raised — I just hate cigarettes. We are both 17. She kept it from me, probably knowing I wouldn't approve, but I rode my bicycle over unexpectedly and she was smoking alone on a table in her backyard. She didn't see me and I left. Now what? I don't want to seem like a hypocrite by suddenly not liking her, but it does make me feel differently. My friends have no advice. Please help.
— Hates Cigarettes in Redding
Brandon, 21, Mapleton, Maine: Communication is key. Ask her why she started smoking, and how she feels about quitting. Don't "throw it in her face." Make sure she understands you love her and aren't dropping your relationship over it. Quitting requires self-confidence and support — and also time. There is nothing worse than being scrutinized and held hostage by someone you love. Some girls in high school smoked because it was cool, others to deal with stress or lose weight. Many eventually realized it was stupid and wanted to avoid public scrutiny (which is increases greatly as you get into adulthood). Since she's smoking alone, she's already hiding from scrutiny — a good sign. Don't fight fire with fire, be supportive and there as a friend.
Colin, 20, Sacramento: Smoking isn't a deal-breaker for me. I contend that helping her quit is a noble goal. Oddly, there are very few rehab programs for nicotine addiction (note there are scads of them for marijuana even though it has fewer health and addiction problems). If the relationship is important, don't be pushy or you'll lose her.
Moriah, 17, Rutland, Vt.: Tell her you saw her, explain your feelings towards cigarettes, and ask if she's willing to work on quitting. If she isn't, there are likely other important things she won't compromise on. But you must admit you saw her — secrets also pull relationships apart.
Brie, 22, San Francisco: Be frank: "I saw you smoking the other day." Let her know why you are so against smoking. It's important she understands your reasoning. Do her parents know? Having family support makes quitting easier. I've dated a few smokers, but now it's a deal-breaker. I hate the smell and can even tell if someone's been around a smoker. If she doesn't want to stop, better to end the relationship sooner than later.
Katelyn, 19, Huntington Beach: Without sounding suspicious or defensive, say, "I went to your house and saw you smoking. Why did you hide this from me?" Then listen carefully before making decisions.
Christina, 21, Yuba City: I never thought I'd date a smoker, but the guy I'm seeing smokes occasionally. I talked with him. He was raised around smokers and only smokes rarely to handle stress. It's good you have a stance. Now find out hers and take it from there.
DEAR HATES CIGARETTES: How much did you like this girl — that is, before "fire" was discovered? The panel is correct to approach this with compassionate communication. Every day, 3,200 U.S. teenagers light up for the first time and almost two-thirds of them get hooked. It's an incredibly easy thing to happen. AND it can un-happen. Be curious. Explore, as a concerned friend, what prompted her to smoke (for many there was a traumatic or stressful event) and ask if she wants help quitting. Odds are, she does. Colin brings up the stunning absence of outpatient rehab-style programs for nicotine addiction. The most effective quitting aids available are personal counseling, group counseling, hypnotherapy — or a doctor telling you to quit.
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