It is known that smokers constitute an important risk group of patients undergoing surgery. It is unknown how smoking cessation intervention initiated 4 weeks prior to elective surgery affects the probability of permanent cessation. We randomly assigned 117 patients, scheduled to undergo elective orthopaedic and general surgery, to smoking cessation intervention and control group. The intervention group underwent a programme initiated, on average, 4 weeks prior to surgery with weekly meetings or telephone counselling and were provided with free nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). The control group received standard care. As a result, 20/55 (36%) patients the intervention group vs 1/62 (2%) in the control group became completely abstinent throughout the peri-operative period (p < 0.001). After 1 year, those in the intervention group was most likely to be abstinent (18/55 (33%) vs 9/62 (15%) of the controls (p = 0.03). Level of nicotine dependence and obesity seemed to be a predictor of long-term abstinence (p = 0.02).