Talking to patients about smoking

Smoking causes more preventable deaths in England than anything else. It’s putting the NHS and social care services under immense pressure: we spend £3.6 billion every year treating diseases caused by smoking. Speaking to your patients about their smoking has huge potential benefits - whether or not they have related health problems.

We know it's not always easy to speak to patients about smoking, so here’s some advice on how to encourage people to quit.

The patient has to want to quit

People only stop smoking when they’re ready and want to do it. Being asked to quit by friends, family or healthcare professionals rarely leads to someone stopping successfully. If they’re not ready, there’s not much you can do.

Keep nudging

Keep the lines of communication open so you can ask them about their smoking again in the future. Sometimes it takes lots of little nudges for people to see that smoking is harming them, so keep on raising the topic.

Make the most of the triggers for quitting

There are some key things that trigger people to stop smoking. For example:

  • Health scares, and cancer, heart and lung problems in particular
  • Noticing the signs of aging - like slowing down or feeling out of breath
  • A friend or family member getting a smoking-related illness
  • Having a child or grandchild on the way

Keep an eye open for these triggers - they’re an opportune moment to speak to a patient about smoking.

Avoid judgement

Many people feel judged for smoking, and so might not want to talk about it. Make your conversations about smoking supportive ones. It’s fine to express your concerns about the impact smoking is having on their health, particularly if you can be specific and give concrete examples. You could also talk about the positive health implications they might see from quitting: like less coughing, being able to keep up with their kids or grandkids, and regaining their sense of smell and taste. You should also listen to their feelings about quitting and try to find out more about where they are. Lots of people use smoking to deal with stress, and might feel like they can’t quit as a result.

Offer support

Offer them support with the Smoke Free service. Explain that they’ll get their own adviser, access to quitting aids like patches and gum, and lots of support and guidance to help them quit.

Training for professionals

We have three services that offer free stop smoking and training for professionals. Find out more: