Missed opportunities for prevention: smoking cessation counseling and the competing demands of practice

J Fam Pract. 1997 Oct;45(4):348-54.


Background: Smoking cessation advice is an effective intervention for the control of tobacco use. The objective of this study was to assess and describe the rates of smoking status assessment and smoking cessation advice provided by physicians during ambulatory office visits with respect to physician specialty, type of visit, and number of problems addressed at the visit.

Methods: We used a cross-sectional survey of patient visits to the offices of nonfederally employed, office-based physicians participating in the 1992 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (n = 1558).

Results: Physicians reported knowing the smoking status of their patients in 66% of outpatient visits. The rate of assessment was similar for generalists and specialists. Cardiologists and generalists, except for pediatricians, showed discernible rates of smoking cessation advice (medians ranging from 14% to 50%), whereas obstetrician/gynecologists and other specialists had negligible rates. For tobacco-related visits, generalists and specialists had comparable rates of cessation advice to identified smokers. For non-tobacco-related visits, generalists had higher rates than specialists (22% vs 10%; P < .001).

Conclusions: Although a substantial majority of smokers are reportedly identified by physicians during ambulatory visits, a large number of identified smokers are not receiving smoking cessation counseling. Patients seen by generalists are more likely to receive smoking cessation advice. Physicians appear to prioritize smoking cessation advice based on diagnosis at the time of the visit.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Counseling / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family Practice / standards*
  • Family Practice / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Patient Education as Topic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Records
  • Smoking
  • Smoking Cessation* / methods
  • Smoking Cessation* / statistics & numerical data
  • Specialization
  • United States