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As a nurse you are in an ideal role to encourage your patients to stop smoking and should make every contact count.

Facts about smoking:

  • half of all smokers die from smoking related diseases.
  • smokers reduces life expectancy by about 8-12 years compared to not smoking
  • 50% of smokers will die prematurely and experience several years of illness before they die
  • Smoking reduces life expectancy by an average of 10 years.

The good news

Stopping smoking can make a big difference to a patient’s health. It is never too late to stop smoking. By stopping smoking in middle age, before having cancer or some other serious disease, it is possible to avoid most of the increased risk of death due to smoking.

Making Every Contact Count

If a patient smokes the best thing they can do for their health is to stop smoking. Smokers expect to be asked and be advised, a health event can be a trigger to quit. These tips will support you to make a difference to your patients:

  • as a nurses you need to ask, advise and refer.
  • ask about smoking history, document and keep asking at every consultation.
  • give brief intervention advice and document it
  • refer to a NHS stop smoking service which are available in a wide range of locations (including hospitals). 
  • get your training (making every contact count – widely available)
  • reinforce the smoke free policies, it is everyone’s role to help smokers including nurses

Help to stop smoking:

Stop smoking programmes include behavioural support and medication and last for approximately 12 weeks.

NHS Stop Smoking Servicesare available in a range of locations from chemists, local amenities, doctors’ surgeries to hospitals.

Other smoking cessation programmes include:

  • The National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training (NCSCT) supports the delivery of effective evidence-based tobacco control programmes and smoking cessation interventions provided by local stop smoking services. 
  • NHS Education Scotland has produced two e-learning packages and one virtual patient scenario to help equip health care professionals with the skills to help people stop smoking, and provides advice on how to start your own Stop Smoking service.
  • Stop Smoking Wales has launched an e-Learning Brief Intervention training package for NHS staff. There are also many local training packages and courses available.
  • There are a range of resources to help you contact or set up a service if there are none available, see the British Thoracic Society - smoking cessationpages.


The RCN is a member on the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on smoking and health and has been supporting the lobbying on guidance and support on e-cigarettes and how they can best be used to support smoking cessation.

See the government position one-cigarettes and support for a regulatory framework. See also the RCN's policy briefing: Revision of European legislation on Tobacco Products Directive. RCN Position Statement (2013).

A report to the UK All PartyParliamentary Groups has summarised evidence relating to key issues surrounding e-cigarettes.

There has been considerable discussion on e-cigarettes and one of the key issues for nurses is how to advise on their use with other smoking cessation support measures. The following statement from the Association of Respiratory Nurse Specialists ARNS, who work in partnership with the RCN, provides additional information and material.

The European Union and its Member States have taken various tobacco control measures in the form of legislation, recommendations and information campaigns. Tobacco consumption is the single largest avoidable health risk in the European Union. It is the most significant cause of premature death, responsible for nearly 700,000 deaths every year. Around 50 percent of smokers die prematurely, on average 14 years earlier.

The Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group has published a new document: Use of electronic cigarettes in pregnancy: A guide for midwives and other healthcare professionals. The briefing is intended to provide a summary of the evidence on electronic cigarettes, with suggested responses to some frequently asked questions about their use during pregnancy. Public Health England has also published a blog: Achieving a smokefree pregnancy: can e-cigarettes help? See also: RCN Midwifery Forum.

Cancer Research UK has some useful documents and briefings on the role of e-cigarettes, the evidence to date on their safety, impact and role in smoking cessation

ROSPA have developed guidance on the safety implications of vaping in the home, see: Use of e-cigarettes (vaping) in the home: advice for parents. There is also a good blog on safety advice for parents and families from Jo Locker, Tobacco Control Manager, Public Health England, see: Vaping in the home: advice for parents.

Smokefree action

The RCN is part of the Smoke Free Action Coalition which works to lobby on tobacco control and smoking cessation support. The Coalition lobbied on standardised packaging which comes into force in May 2016.

Resources on standardised packaging published by Public Health England include:

Further information:

  • Children's health up in smoke. This national campaign highlights the true dangers of second hand smoke.
  • NHS Smokefree has information on protecting your family from second hand smoke.

Help with stopping smoking and further information

The NHS provides free support to quit smoking, including signposts to all services and a range of resources.

Useful websites