My sister is in the hospital. She’s a smoker and has run out of cigarettes and is asking me to bring her more. She is not hospitalized because of her smoking.

I strongly disagree with smoking and feel like I would be encouraging/condoning it by bringing her cigarettes and I have therefore said I won’t bring her any cigarettes.

I have already made some concessions, as much as it pained me, and took her outside in a wheelchair to smoke her last cigarette.

She’s constantly asking me to bring her some. I know if she asked the nurses, they would give her a nicotine patch/gum/nicotine product if the cravings are the issue and she knows that too, so I don't think nicotine withdrawal is the issue here. I think she just wants to smoke.

She’s mainly targeting me as she knows I’m most likely to cave in and bring her cigarettes but has asked others, who have also said no. Her friends that smoke won’t be visiting until later today.

I’m not trying to force her to stop or even asking her to stop. I’m asking her to stop asking me to condone it and assist her with it. I'm not worried about her resenting me for that, as I know such resentment would not be long-lived once she's found someone else to go get the cigarettes for her. Minimising this would simply be an added bonus, a secondary objective if you will.

How can I get her to respect my beliefs and stop asking me to help her smoke?

This question is not about whether it’s right or wrong to give her cigarettes.
Suggestions on compromises maybe helpful but (in general) telling me why I should or shouldn’t assist her to smoke doesn’t answer the question and I think is off-topic and possibly a topic for Biology.SE. I know and understand the arguments for and against. I agree with the hospital, whose policy is to provide treatment for nicotine withdrawal but not to encourage or condone smoking.

I have been one of the main people helping her and providing support in general. When she was admitted I went 3 days with little sleep and spent every available hour helping her so I would ask you to please hold the “bad brother” comments.

The total time between her running out and a friend bringing her cigarettes was comparable to a long haul flight, she was otherwise fine and ready for discharge (basically final day of monitoring before going home).

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    You might want to add a location. I know the hospitals in my area would severely frown on this, to the point of possibly denying you access if you did so after being asked not to. Bringing a patient cigs, or a patient going outside to smoke in close proximity would be shut down, fairly hard and fast. Therefore, if you were here, you could take the conflict out by letting the hospital find out and be the scapegoat. Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 6:38
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    @ArturoTorresSánchez you aren't allowed to smoke in any public building in the UK, including hospitals.
    – user2356
    Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 17:57
  • The same dilemma could occur if she asked for a hamburger and you're a vegetarian. I'm not sure it's your position to make her lifestyle choices for her, and it would be an insignificant cessation until she leaves the hospital anyway. You say it's not about whether it's right or wrong, but it clearly is about that.
    – NibblyPig
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 14:36

9 Answers 9


This is a tricky situation, because neither of you is objectively more correct than the other. Your sister makes a valid case, but so do you. The decision on whose argument is more correct is fully subjective.
If I were to put this question in front of a large crowd, I would expect there to be support for either side of the argument, which means that we can't tell you which side is definitively correct.

First things first, you have the right to refuse to bring her cigarettes. Nothing I say is going to change that fact.

But I want to explore that decision first. Not to criticize you or invalidate your opinion, but rather to showcase that your sister is likely hearing something different than what you're saying; which is contributing to the issue.

Let me play your advocate and your sister's advocate. From those two viewpoints, we can distill an IPS approach that avoids offending either party.

Playing your advocate.

You have the right to refuse any favor that is asked of you. Full stop. It doesn't matter whether your sister is asking your to bring her cigarettes or her slippers.

However, the freedom to do so does not mean that you're immune to the consequence of doing so. If your sister find your refusal unjustified, she will be upset with you, even if she can't force you to actually perform the favor.

But how to phrase your refusal?

I strongly disagree agree with smoking and feel like I would be encouraging/condoning it by bringing her cigarettes and I have therefore said I won’t bring her any cigerettes.

If you used a phrasing similar to this, I can understand why your sister essentially ignores your explanation and repeats the question (Note: I can see where she's coming from. I'm not saying that she's objectively correct).

Based on your phrasing, you've implied that you refuse to bring her cigarettes because you want to make her stop smoking. In your question, there is a general underlying tone to most of what you said that implies this same intent; you're trying to direct your sister's behavior.

Importantly: You've already explicitly denied this in a later comment you made, where you confirm that you're not trying to get her to stop. But sadly, that message gets lost in translation, because your initial phrasing implies personal motivations, even if that's not the case.
The source of conflict often derives from making implications, regardless of whether you wanted to make the implication or believe that it's correct.

From this point on, we're focusing on what your sister hears, not on what you intended to say in the first place.

Your sister may not consider this a valid justification. Legally speaking, it isn't (if she's an adult, you have no standing to make her life decisions for her). Morally speaking, it's subjective (some people will agree with your sister, some people will agree with you).

So instead, stick to the undeniable facts:

I feel uncomfortable bringing you cigarettes. You know my opinion on smoking, and bringing you cigarettes would make me feel like I'm going against my own moral code. I would rather not do so.

Everything you say here is undeniably true. Even though your motivation is subjective, describing that this is your motivation is objectively correct.

However, I think it would be interesting for you to consider how unwilling you are to enable her smoking. Forget the hospital for a second:

  • Would you be okay asking someone (e.g. another sibling) to bring her cigarettes?
  • Would you drive her to a shop if she needs cigarettes?
  • Would you tell her where to find a shop where she can buy cigarettes?
  • Would you lend her money, if you knew she was going to buy cigarettes with it? (assume she is guaranteed to pay you back promptly)
  • Would you accompany her if she drives herself to a shop to get cigarettes? (assuming you would otherwise still have spent time with your sister)

I think you can see that this becomes a slippery slope. There is a point where your refusal will generally be considered petty (by your sister), which will cause friction between you (thus precluding a good IPS approach).

We can argue about where that exact point is, but that's irrelevant. Your opinion is different from your sister's, which is different from mine. There is no objectively correct answer here.

However, if you are in fact comfortable with some of the alternatives (you can of course think of others if you want), I would include them as a suggestion:

I would feel uncomfortable bringing you cigarettes. You know my opinion on smoking, and bringing you cigarettes would make me feel like I'm going against my own moral code. I would rather not do so.
If you want, I can ask [sibling] to bring you some when they visit you.

This lowers the chance for your sister to get offended or consider your refusal unjustified. Instead of abjectly refusing, you are instead simply trying to avoid a personal issue, and have suggested a viable alternative that does not make you feel (as) uncomfortable.

Playing your sister's advocate.

How can I get her to respect my beliefs and stop asking me to help her smoke?

Note that your sister can ask the same of you, getting you to respect her right to smoke if she chooses to, regardless of your opinion on the matter.

Changing the example, would you bring your sister her favorite cookies if she asked you to?

While it may be morally justified for you to refuse doing so if your sister is e.g. in hospital for obesity-related problems; there's no real moral justification for refusing to do so if your sister is in good health (i.e. the cookies are not unusually detrimental to her in her current state).

This is the core of your sister's argument. She is asking for your assistance. The only reason she's asking for help is because she currently has issues doing it herself (due to being confined to the hospital). She is not asking for your permission, approval or advice.

When you refuse to bring your sister cigarettes, what she hears is that you're refusing to help her. You refused her request, but (to her) it was merely a request for help, not to make her life decisions for her.

There are valid reasons for you to refuse bringing her cigarettes, but from your sister's point of view, they are generally limited to not being able to visit or bring anything at all (regardless of the cigarettes themselves).

What I'm trying to get at, is that there is a meaningful difference between helping someone, and helping someone do something.

Let me change the example, so that you're impartial to the scenario:

A man is lying on the ground. He is wounded. I rush over to him, I treat his wounds and nurse him back to full health. Upon recovery, the man continues what he was doing before he got injured: destroying the rainforest.

If I had not helped this man, he would not have been able to destroy more of the rainforest.

Even though I helped the man, and he could not have continued destroying the rainforest without me healing him, I did not help the man to destroy the rainforest.
What the man chose to do after he was healed, was his decision, not mine. Healing the man does not make me responsible for all his future actions.

The same is true for your sister. She is asking for your help, but she's not asking you to kill her by making her smoke. Even after you bring the cigarettes, you're not forcing her to smoke them. She is willingly smoking cigarettes, and it is her right to choose to do so.
Bringing your sister cigarettes does not make you responsible for her voluntarily smoking the cigarettes.

There is one fringe exception: if your sister has already indicated she wanted to stop smoking, and is clearly caving to the withdrawal. But you never mentioned that your sister has wanted to stop smoking, so this is irrelevant for the current situation.

So, what's the conclusion here?

First and foremost, you need to decide where your priorities lie. If there is no middle ground to be found, would you rather bring cigarettes to your sister, or will you keep refusing to do so (and risk having her be upset with you)?

If you will keep refusing to do so; then you have your answer. Phrase your refusal kindly (as per the example above), but since you have definitively made up your mind, there's no further discussion to be had.
All you can do is explain your reasoning to your sister in order to lower the chance (or severity) of her being upset with you, but that's not a guarantee.
It's possible that offending her is unavoidable. That depends on your sister, and I don't know her.

However, if you would rather bring her cigarettes than have a falling out with her, or are at least open to compromise (meeting her halfway), then there is more to discuss. The only fair way for this to work, is if both of you are comfortable with the compromise.

In this case, start off the same way: explain to her why you feel uncomfortable. Don't beat a dead horse either; I infer that you've been clear about your disapproval of her smoking in the past, so she may already know your stance on it. Focus on how it makes you feel, don't focus on defining what is right and wrong.

After she understands (and respects) your apprehension; try and find a middle ground. I can't give you a conclusive answer here, because I can't answer for your sister (or for you). Try coming up with alternatives, and try to achieve your sister's goal while also avoiding personal uncomfortability.

What will happen will depend on both you and your sister. If your sister isn't very sympathetic, it's likely that she'll be upset with you based on your initial refusal. There's not much you can do here, except explain your reasoning and express that you don't want to feel uncomfortable.

If your sister is particularly sympathetic, she might be okay with your refusal and doesn't need you to meet her halfway (e.g. once she understand your feelings, she may understand that she shouldn't involve you in her attempt to get cigarettes).

If it's somewhere in the middle, then you'll need to work out a compromise between the two of you. But at least you're now having an open and honest conversation, as opposed to misunderstanding each other and talking past each other.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – John
    Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 18:41

As OldPadawan says,

I would have found a way to get my cigarettes, believe me... As any under influence person would probably too

If she is on withdrawal, symptoms can be quite bad (I know, I quit smoking). This will greatly increase her stress and is guaranteed to interfere with her healing. If she's in the hospital, now is not the moment to quit smoking, which is something you do when you're at ease, with lots of motivation and no stress in sight. What you are doing is simply adding stress and other problems on top of her other problems (like being sick and in the hospital).

Also one common symptom of withdrawal is extreme irritability, so don't be surprised at a surprisingly high level of resentment on her part.

How can I get her to respect my beliefs

Your beliefs are irrelevant. Either your desire to help her is more important than your beliefs, or it is not, in which case you should acknowledge you don't really care, and stop visiting.

Now, if you wish to help her, you will have to convince her to use a substitute that will fix her cravings and withdrawal symptoms while being better for her health. Nicotine patches and gums are crap, the best way I found is simply to use a vape. It really works because the user controls the dose.

This is the IPS bit: I recommend offering her a vape and convincing her that it's much more convenient in her current hospital setting. Arguments you can use are: it works, it fixes the withdrawal, it makes no smoke, she doesn't need to get out on her whelechair, it's much better for her health, and since it doesn't upset your "beliefs" you will bring her the stuff.

But most likely if she hasn't had a smoke in several days you'll just hand the thing to her and she'll suckle on it like crazy to get her dose, without you having to say anything at all.

Then the next days you visit don't forget to compliment her about how she no longer smells like tobacco, etc. You can try to convince her to switch to vaping entirely instead of smoking. It really works. It is also much cheaper.

Make sure you pick a liquid that doesn't stink, though. If you worry about the price, ask yourself if helping a family member in need is worth 50 bucks?

  • I went from 40+ cigarettes a day to good vaping, could never cut completely a second time. But improvement is all over the mind and the body :)
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 13:03
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    You can also offer nicotine gum, it does taste horrible (try it for giggles if you're a non-smoker) and doesn't work very well, but it's better than nothing. However it doesn't work well for quitting smoking, because it doesn't replace the whole "cigarette experience".. don't know how to explain that, but some people also need the gesture. Also nicotine gum is an excellent laxative LOL. And it churns your stomach. If she's on a wheelchair, it might be quite the inconvenience...
    – user2135
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 13:12
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    Before I quit smoking, I had stopped once, for 4 years. Then back to smoke. The second time, I went to a doctor, bought gums, patches, nicotine-free cigarettes, and so on... peanuts!
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 13:20
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    So nicotine free cigarettes give you cancer just like the real ones but you don't even get the nicotine? Seems legit LOL
    – user2135
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 13:26
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    "...in which case you should acknowledge you don't really care, and stop visiting." This is what's called a false dichotomy.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 9:50

As a heavy smoker for decades, it would have done nothing. Unfortunately. Nothing. At all... No deal, and no big deal. I would have found a way to get my cigarettes, believe me... As any under influence person would probably too :(

I've stopped for some years now, and feel great. At the time I was smoking, I knew what it does to your body. But I could also feel what it does to your mind: helps you feel better, and relieves some pain. We, smoker, are addicted (were, for me, now). It's a pity, but a fact.

Let me tell you how she may feel. I was in her shoes. Underwent surgery (quite heavy) years ago, and had to stay in bed for at least 3 days without moving, and with heavy (controlled) drugs to relieve the pain. You know what? After 36 hours, I was out of bed...

It was taking nearly 25mn to walk to the elevator, get downstairs, reach the outside area where people were allowed to smoke. And 25mn to go back to my bed. I was doing that every 2 hours the first day (with an episode of my favourite show inbetween), and every hour after 1 more day.

Never underestimate the EVIL power of a cigarette!!! She needs it, for now.

At this very particular moment, she needs it more than ever. It's a shame, I agree, and will never tell it enough. But she needs it...

Can you say NO to her? Sure. Find your words, choose them carefully, and, more important, keep them for later, when she'll be back home, and have a more listening ear.

Having said that, you may ask her to not ask you. Simply that. Will it work?...hm...

But, if you want to help her later, and help her fight that nicotine addiction, you may want to wait until she gets better. You can find many many websites with useful tips. Anyway, be prepared to hear a NO or something along the line of I don't care, or I do whatever I want with my health...

If you really want to tell her right now, tell her something like: Please, sister, you know I don't like cigarettes, and what it does to people. Why do you ask ME to help you do that?

It may help her understand she goes against what you believe. Never know...

  • As an ex smoker I totally agree with this. It's insanely addictive. See my answer for an alternative ;)
    – user2135
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 12:58
  • I completely understand the addiction problem. I’m not trying to force her to stop, or even asking her to stop. I’m asking her to stop asking me to condone it and assist her with it. I understand that the motivation it provides can be outweigh the damage of a few cigarettes but that doesn’t help my conscience much.
    – user2356
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 12:59
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    @Notts90 : I understand very much what you feel, I had to do the same with my Dad (and I was a heavy smoker too at that time, I realized later...)
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 13:05

Your feelings on smoking come from listening to your conscience. It sounds corny, but if you personify your conscience it can help explain to someone why you are making a particular stand. So rather than saying "I won't/can't do that", show her your inner predicament by saying something like:

Look, my conscience won't allow me to help you smoke. Everybody knows that smoking is harmful to your health, and if I were to help you smoke I would feel like I was causing harm to you. I couldn't live with myself if I did that.

Hope this helps.

  • To a workmate who asked me to bring duty-free cigarettes from my holiday: We both know that smoking causes cancer. If I bring you cigarettes and next year you get cancer and die, it would be my fault. I do not want that.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 12:36

I think this is pretty much a duplicate of every "how do I get x person to stop bugging me about y" question, of which there are many, so you might get some value from looking up other such questions and reading the answers there. (With the possible exception that your sister has an even stronger than usual motivation--although not necessarily even that.)

The short version is that you strongly reward any positive behavior (in this case, any interactions you have with your sister where she is not asking you to bring her cigarettes) and ignore or remove yourself from any negative behavior. Your first instinct will probably be to argue with negative behavior, but this is counterproductive: it actively encourages your sister to keep doing the negative behavior, because she gets some response from it and believes (possibly correctly) that with time she will be able to change your response into the one she wants.

The correct method goes like this: Behave as nicely with your sister as possible. Tell her how happy you are to see her, talk about her favorite topics, etc., bring her a nice card, anything that doesn't involve cigarettes. The first time she brings up the idea of you bringing her cigarettes, tell her that you're very sorry, but you can't even talk about bringing her cigarettes and if she continues to talk about it you will have to leave. When she continues to talk about it, you apologize quickly, say that you miss her and enjoyed talking to her, but you cannot talk about this topic, and then you leave immediately. (Do not let her try it a third time.) The next time you go see your sister (on your normal schedule), go back to the beginning and act as nicely as possible again. Don't bring up the previous visit at all, even in passing, just say that you miss her, hope she is getting better, etc., etc. When she again brings up cigarettes, repeat the same process. Don't let it drag out, just remind her as quickly as possible that you can't talk about that and that all she has to do to keep you in the room is talk about anything else... If she switches to another topic, good, go immediately back to being as nice as possible, but the second time she brings up the banned topic then leave politely but quickly.

I'm not going to say this is easy, but it's quite effective, and you also get the maximum positive time with your sister.


Stop explaining and stop justifying your decision.

You've already said "No". You've already explained your decision. And there is no amount of explanation that will change her mind. So stop getting baited into arguing with her. And stop taking her arguments too seriously.

Just say: "No, I don't have to explain myself".

She's in withdrawal and she's going to say some pretty nasty things to you. If she goes that route, just agree with her.

"Sure, I'm evil."

"Sure, I am a bad brother."

"Sure, I don't care about you."

"You're right."


You can't control what she thinks of you. And the more you try to control what she thinks of you, the more she has control over you.

Also, don't try to stop her from asking you. You can't control what she asks. Just don't give in on your own action (which is still under your own control). That's the only thing you need to do. But do let go on trying to control what she does or what she thinks. Because the more you try to tell her to stop asking you, the more she's going to ask you. Or the more distressed you appear by her repeated request, the more she's going to ask.

If that advice is not enough for you, read the book When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel J. Smith.

That book is absolutely awesome, but if you have trouble reading it, begin with the transcripts at the end of the book and work your way back up to the beginning of the book.


In my language, we have a saying that says: "O combinado não sai caro". Basically it says that an agreement is the best option for making the 2 parts happy.

What I'm proposing: propose an agreement to her, that you will bring her some more cigarettes, but will lower the numbers as the days goes by. Example: day 1: bring her 5 cigarettes, day 2: 4, day 3: 3... If needed, the numbers can be replaced of course. but my point is, don't take it away from her immediately, take it away gradually, she will be more whiling to compel with you (cause some is better than nothing) and you will also help her smoking less/nothing

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    As a heavy smoker for decades, it would have done nothing. Unfortunately. Nothing. At all... No deal, and no big deal. I would have found a way to get my cigarettes, believe me... As any under influence person would probably too :(
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 12:29
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    This does not honour the premise of the question. The OP doesn't want to give their sister cigarettes, they want them to stop asking for those....
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 16:53

While I agree with Flater's answer in spirit (telling the sister that being asked is a (moral) burden to you). Here is another slightly confrontational approach:

"Look sis, I love you and you know I'll always be there for you. But please stop asking me to get you cigarettes. For me this is as if you'd be asking me to help you commit suicide (hand you a gun to shoot yourself). It pains me greatly and while I accept all your decisions, I cannot help you in this case, please do me the favour to accept that vice versa."

This might open up a little discussion and yes it opens the emotion can, but as siblings (and friends etc.) sometimes it's good to talk about emotions or even let them out to some degree. Your reasons to be anti-smoking might be different, then you have to adjust the answer, but I'd be blunt and shocking this once and in any following discussion reiterate that you accept her as she is, but ask for the same.

If this doesn't help and your relationship is used to the sibling-roughness that often overshadows the underlying sibling love, you may need to reinforce your stance a few times. You might might try to see her your point by either re-iterating the above approach in variations or using her own principles whenever she asks again.

Say she is a little Hermione and on moral grounds wouldn't want to do your homework:

"Hey bro, when you go shopping, can you get me some cigs?"

"Would you do my homework in the meantime? Oh not? Thought so... Remember that discussion we had?..."

or stick with your own feelings

"Hey bro, when you go shopping, can you get me some cigs?"

"Sorry, but I'm sure they have knives so you can cut your veins."

There is some risk with the first approach that at some point she caves in on her principles and, in the example, does your homework (first approach), or that she feels you do want to tell her what she should do (second approach). So use both only when she brings the topic up and remind her that it's only your reaction to her asking and you wouldn't if she didn't. In the first case, you can use anything she is very principled in and wouldn't want to do - but make sure it's clear that it's not an actual request, just a rhetoric reminder why asking you is moot and not nice.

As we don't know your sister, there is no one fits-all approach, especially when it comes to hitting the right tone. You want to be somewhat blunt and making sure she remembers but not be too offensive, so it all depends on how you typically converse (e.g. is banter normal or totally frowned upon etc.).

This answer is explicitly not on the softest/nicest side, as we have already answers in that direction - sometimes to get your point across a bit bluntness helps, but it always needs to be delivered within the right context (i.e. not every moment might be the right and the formulation might need to be adapted to the person). In the end though, this is a confrontation of two people that want two different things, so for at least one party there is a at least a small amount of unpleasantness to be expected in however it is resolved.


There is basically no reason for hospitalization where refraining from smoking will not increase your chances at recovery. In particular, any wound including surgery will heal worse while smoking.

Your sister will not stop urging you for cigarettes because she does not want to stop smoking. However, it is likely very much important for her health that she at least pauses smoking while recovering.

So try selling this as a temporary medical substitute which she can later, at her own responsibility, turn back into "proper" smoking again. Try figuring out with the physicians what recovery period will be particularly damaged by smoking, and aim for making her accept substitutes for that limited time period. After that, she will be down to the usual smokers' process to killing herself rather than an expedited one. The prospect of a limited time period might make her accept substitutes.

But of course not as long as she can make you give in.