Ways to Support Patients in Quitting Smoking

Working in healthcare means you’re in a unique position to help someone who’s decided it’s time to quit

If you’re a nurse, nursing assistant, or other healthcare professional, you probably come into contact every day with individuals who want to—or have tried to—quit smoking. This single decision can have a radical impact on a person’s overall health. Healthcare providers should be equipped to provide patients with good information as well as support them in their attempts to quit. The first step is to be well informed, and to know what resources are available.

A good place to start is the website www.smokefree.gov. Created by the Tobacco Control Research Branch of the National Cancer Institute, this site was designed to “help you or someone you care about quit smoking.” It takes into account that people may need different resources in order to be successful in their attempts to quit. The site offers good tips and lots of interactive tools, as well as a range of entry points to meet smokers exactly where they are in the process, such as:

  • “I want to quit”
  • “I recently quit”
  • “My quit day”
  • “Staying quit”

The site is well designed and easy to navigate, with extensive resources on healthy choices and how a smoker can get the help they may need to make those choices, again and again.

A second resource, which may be particularly helpful for anyone working in healthcare, is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which has created a guide for clinicians to help smokers to quit.

The guide provides a 5-prong approach for individuals who work directly with patients. Even if you’re not in the position to provide direct patient care or counseling as part of your daily duties, it can be valuable to understand the approach. These include five “A”s:

  • Ask — inquire about tobacco use at every patient visit
  • Advise — be clear with all users that quitting is the most important thing they can do for their health
  • Assess — find out whether the user is willing to quit, or still needs additional motivation
  • Assist — for those ready to quit, help them devise a plan
  • Arrange — plan a follow-up conversation with the patient at a future visit

Following is a summary of additional suggestions contained within the AHRQ’s guide:

Help them make quitting easier
If someone is prepared to quit smoking, AHRQ suggests a few steps that can make a crucial difference:

  • Set a specific date to quit. This should be soon—preferably within 2 weeks.
  • Commit to total abstinence from smoking. A single puff will undermine the attempt to quit.
  • Be aware of alcohol use, because this is often a factor for people who “fall off the wagon.”
  • Ensure that cigarettes and tobacco products are not in the home, office, car, or other places where they spend time regularly.
  • Enlist the support of the community—family, friends, and coworkers. This includes no smoking in the household of the person who is trying to quit.

Support the smoker in being strategic
A smoker has probably tried to quit in the past. It can be useful to help them review what they did when they tried to quit before, and what was effective. They might also be aware of what is most likely to cause them to relapse. It can help to walk through some of these scenarios, and come up with strategies to cope—especially during the first few weeks, when they are most vulnerable to the physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Everyone is unique in what they need to do to (1) stop smoking and then (2) maintain a smoke-free lifestyle. It’s essential to be responsive to what the individual believes will work for them.

Identify reasons for and benefits of quitting
It’s beneficial to be informed about the varied inspirations someone might find to quit. Even though you might not want (or need) to lecture a patient about any of these factors, he or she may not have considered all of them, or might be willing to discus them with you. A good source of information is a handout from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called “Reasons to Quit Smoking.”

This information should help you to feel empowered about what steps you can take and what resources you can point to, should a patient in your office say they’re ready to try to quit. You can help them in making this profound, life-altering change. It is one of the many honors and responsibilities of working in the healthcare profession.


This article is part of the weekly blog of the Salter School of Nursing and Allied Health. We offer tips, career advice, and lifestyle information for current and prospective students. Reach out to us for more information about our several career training programs.

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