For Healthcare Professionals

“The health care system has long been recognized as a logical and potentially productive means of reaching smokers with a cessation message and promoting their successful cessation. Approximately 70 percent of smokers see a physician each year, creating the potential to reach large numbers of smokers with a cessation message. The fraction of patients who report having been advised in the last year by their physician to quit smoking remains too low…” – National Cancer Institute’s monograph: Population Based Smoking Cessation: Proceedings of a Conference on What Works to Influence Cessation in the General Population.

After reading this section, please consider reviewing the remainder of the website with respect to possible areas of concern with your patient population. Are there frequent excuses your population use to not start a smoking cessation program? Are there some statistics you feel might benefit your patients when you talk with them? Please feel free to email any questions, concerns, comments or additions. Our goal is to help people stop smoking. Your help as a healthcare provider, this website, these methods, pharmacologic / nutritional assistance, and a good support system will increase your patients’ long-term smoking cessation success rate.

Why should we be concerned with having our patients stop smoking now? The problem is only half of people with the most common lung disease of smokers, Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (COPD), are clinically recognized. It is estimated 10%-15% of people over the age of 55 have significant COPD. Smoking is the major contributor to this. As you know, COPD is irreversible. Once you have it, it is progressive and cannot be cured. There currently is no test available to tell which person will get COPD or, of the people who will eventually get it, how soon. The reason COPD is underestimated is because it is not usually recognized and diagnosed until it is clinically apparent and moderately advanced. Most start smoking as teenagers but are diagnosed and have come to clinical attention with COPD in their later stages of life after several decades of smoking. This is because of our very large lung reserve. As with any lung disease, it is not going to become clinically apparent until one has destroyed 50% or more of their underlying lung function. This is why, for a chronic disease such as COPD, it doesn’t become manifest until a very late stage.

Two major areas of concern focused upon in this section:

1) Should we, as healthcare providers, even be concerned with assisting in the smoking cessation process? Will the adolescents and young adults listen to their healthcare provider? If a person is a middle-aged smoker (aged forty, fifty, or sixty), is an intervention worth while? Is it too late? Much of the total risk of lung cancer is avoidable by quitting at age 50. This is also true of COPD. The heart disease benefit is applicable to all ages.

2) What can we, as healthcare providers, do to help assist people in their smoking cessation plans? Unfortunately healthcare providers are not an overwhelming influence for people to decide to stop smoking—increased difficulty in access to smoking areas and increased cost of cigarettes (usually in the form of increased taxes) are. However, you can just about double the rate of a cessation attempt in a population of individuals coming through your office by giving them a healthcare provider recommendation to quit. Our job as healthcare professionals is to provide access to information, cessation assistance, and medications.

“Healthcare providers have an important role in evaluating, advising patients, and managing their practices in a way that facilitate and encourage patients to maintain a smoking free life.”

A healthcare provider’s goals should be:

1) To get patients not thinking about smoking cessation to think about it.

2) To help patients thinking about it to quit.

Healthcare providers can be a valuable asset to a smoker once they decide to quit. We can also be a “united front” in the effort to discourage smoking. We should not, with a single intervention, guarantee success.

Who should you treat? First and foremost, you need to identify all smokers in your practice. Ask everyone. One of the easiest ways to do this is to have a notation by the person who does the initial interview or vital signs. “Do you Smoke?” Yes or no. Nothing in between. No other response is necessary. Do not allow your patients to minimize their smoking habit. “Yes, but only on the weekends.” “Yes, but I only smoke a cigarette or two a day.” Not acceptable answers. This question has to be a part of your system of providing healthcare. It is a vital sign. Right there with temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. It is presented to you on the chart as such. It is reviewed by you as such. You have a prompt with each patient you see regarding the need for a smoking cessation intervention.


Blood Pressure:______________________________

Pulse: _____________ Weight: _______________

Respiratory Rate: ___________________________

Tobacco Use (circle one): Current Former Never

Do not rely on your memory to Ask. If you do, when you forget to Ask the right person, you are reinforcing in their mind your commitment to help them is weak or gone. They are never too old, they’re never too young, they’re never too sick and they’re never too healthy, to be Asked. Quantifying the smoking to pack-years can be helpful if you are considering diagnosis and treatment of a suspected smoking-related health concern or illness. Using the Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence is a wonderful tool to help people gain interest in smoking cessation. But first, identify your smokers.

Please remember: (as mentioned again below) “Among those who smoked everyday, 41.2% reported that they stopped smoking for greater than or equal to one day in the preceding twelve months in an attempt to quit.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cigarette smoking among adults—United States, 2002. MMWR. 2004;53(20):427-431)

Your patients want to quit. They are in a continual cycle of: 1) thinking about quitting or 2) interested in quitting.

But for the purposes of smoking cessation, if they smoke, a simple “Are you ready to quit?” should be asked in a nonjudgmental/factual manner. The same way you would ask a person how a new diet is going or if there are any side effects to a new anti-hypertensive medication.

The answer allows you to Assess their level of dependence and their readiness to quit. If the response is a definitive NO, you need to Advise them in a clear, strong, personalized, quick, again nonjudgmental manner: “I, as your healthcare provider, am telling you that this is the most important thing you can do for your health and I will help you” and move on. Five second intervention. If the NO seems questionable, refer them to one or more of the quizzes on our website. It is difficult, if not impossible; to convince a smoker to quit and it is not your job. Don’t fight with your patients. Limit the “non-yes” patients to a maximum of 45-90 seconds. Any longer than this is unsustainable in a daily practice. Smoking cessation is a long-term, not a short-term, goal. Smokers know it is bad for them. This is not a failure on your part; it is one step toward success. You have planted a seed. You have allowed your patient, for however brief or extensive, to think about it. Studies show “Among those who smoked everyday, 41.2% reported that they stopped smoking for greater than or equal to one day in the preceding twelve months in an attempt to quit.”. This is an incredibly important statistic. This should be your constant motivator to continue to pursue smoking cessation with your patients.

Ask them again at their next visit. Their “no” today might turn into a “maybe” or “yes” tomorrow. My thought process: there is a 41.2% chance that I will catch a patient in the “yes” mode to quitting at least sometime within the framework of an office visit or interaction. In my personal life I am constantly looking for new and innovative ways to help people stop smoking. What are the cues people might be willing to stop smoking? How can I approach the subject without automatically getting a barrier thrown up? Should I just walk up to a group of smokers and start ranting and raving? A healthcare provider has the advantage in their place of intervention. You have the patient, usually one-on-one, away from their smoking buddies. Hopefully you have built a rapport with them. They trust you. It really is your obligation to at least attempt to have them consider smoking cessation. It doesn’t matter what specialty you practice because smoking cessation has advantages in every setting. Whether you are a primary care provider, a surgical specialist, or a non-patient-care specialist, smoking has an impact on your practice. If you know a person has high blood pressure, a tumor, a bleeding disorder, or whatever, would you not treat them or ask them about a treatment plan? Of course you would.

Your patients need a consistently delivered and effective message to stop smoking. The goal is to hit the person at the right time, when they are ready. This may be with your first visit; it may be after ten years of working with this patient. Do not give up. Do not allow your patient the benefit of seeing you may have lost faith in them. Patients have a way of testing healthcare providers without us even knowing it. Be gentle but firm. Ask about their smoking with each visit. This was NOT the approach I used with my father. I basically pestered him unrelentingly. It was to the point my father would either threaten to walk away or hang up the phone if I persisted. Hind sight being 20/20 I may have been building a wall between my father and myself. Perhaps if I continued to casually mention the health hazards and how smoking was affecting his life, he might have quit on his own. If I had allowed him to come to the realization himself, he might be alive today. Thankfully my mother has stopped smoking. I’m not sure if I had an impact, but I certainly did not persist in as harsh a manner as I did my father.