The process of smoking cessation involves progression through five stages of change: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. Most patients are not prepared to take action on their smoking, yet most smoking cessation programs are designed for smokers who are so prepared. Small percentages of smokers register for action-oriented cessation programs. How much progress patients make after an intervention is directly related to what stage they are in prior to intervention. The stages of change can be quickly assessed with four questions. Physicians can then be more effective with a broader range of patients by matching their interventions to the patients' stage of change. Helping patients progress just one stage can double their chances of not smoking 6 months later. Providing personalized information about the cons of smoking, asking affect-arousing questions, and encouraging patients to re-evaluate themselves as smokers are interventions physicians can use to help patients who are not prepared to quit smoking. Behavioral interventions, such as providing substitutes like nicotine gum and removing or altering cues for smoking, are most helpful for patients who are ready to take action. The use of a stage-matched, patient-centered counseling intervention can help physicians to feel less frustrated and more effective in their efforts to help a broad range of their patients.