How Fellows Can Establish a Smoking Cessation Clinic

Cyrus Khan, MD; and Alice Ulhoa-Cintra, MD
Published: Tuesday, Sep 13, 2011
In this country, an estimated 46 million people—20.6% of all adults—smoke cigarettes. Cigarette smoking also happens to be the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accounting for approximately 443,000 deaths, or 1 of every 5 deaths each year. Approximately 40% of these deaths are from cancer, of which lung cancer is the most prevalent.

In addition to the disastrous impact that tobacco use has on our collective health as a nation, it wreaks havoc on our economy. Cigarette smoking is estimated to be responsible for $193 billion in annual health-related economic losses in the United States—that’s $96 billion in direct medical costs and approximately $97 billion in lost productivity. Cigarette smoking results in 5.1 million years of potential life lost in the United States annually.

It is estimated that 70% of smokers want to quit completely and that 45% of smokers have tried to quit. Yet we realize from our interactions with patients that this is often a losing battle. Patients, even those with lung cancer, at some point in time will return to smoking. Compared with the billions of dollars that cigarette companies pour into marketing their products, the healthcare system is ill-equipped to respond. Smokers who want to quit often have limited resources available to them. As fellows and residents, we often know how important it is to counsel, yet have limited time with each patient to do so.

There are many smoking cessation interventions available, group sessions being one of them. As effective as they are, they are often an option only for those who can pay for them. As fellows and residents, we not only have a responsibility to help fight this major public health hazard, but we are also in an excellent position to do so. Most training programs are affiliated with community health centers. Approximately 20 million Americans are served by such centers, with 40% of these affiliated with residency programs. The majority of patients that visit such centers are poor—the very people who smoke the most and who therefore need the most help. In the following sections, we provide an overview of how fellows/ residents can set up and successfully run a smoking cessation clinic.

Starting Out

Planning is of paramount importance. You will need to speak with the health center director and ensure that resources are available to run such a clinic, which is held in a group meeting format in 2-hour-long sessions once a week for 4 weeks. The following are needed:

  • A large conference room that can hold 10 to 15 people and that is available for a 2-hour slot on a specified day every week for 4 consecutive weeks
  • 2 patient exam rooms
  • A nurse and a medical assistant (MA) who are available each week for that 2-hour time period
  • An attending physician who can be available for 30 minutes per session
  • A whiteboard and pens and paper for the patients

Patient Enrollment

Once you have selected a day and a 2-hour time slot, begin by advertising the clinic. Print out flyers, hang them up in the clinic, and give them out to patients. Have a system in place where the MAs ask each patient coming through the clinic about his or her smoking status. If the patients smoke, at checkout have the staff off er to enroll them in your free smoking cessation clinic. Many will take you up on the off er. Once you have 10 to 15 patients enrolled, you are ready to start your very own smoking cessation clinic!

Next, we will describe how you should conduct each of the 4 sessions. Note that the group sessions will last for approximately 1 hour, with the remaining 1 hour used for individual patient counseling in exam rooms. This counseling allows the clinic to bill for the sessions.

Session 1: Committing to Quit

Start off by congratulating the patients for joining. Introduce them to the notion of smoking cessation through behavior modification and group therapy along with pharmacotherapy, if necessary. Stress the importance of follow-up through subsequent sessions. Hand out printed smoking cessation material, if available.

Next, talk about the harmful effects of smoking. Involve the group and ask them how much they know about the dangers associated with smoking. Discuss the heightened risk of cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A useful exercise is to give out straws and ask the patients to pinch their noses and only breathe through the straws in their mouths; explain that if they do not stop smoking, this is how it will feel when they have emphysema.

Discuss in detail the benefits of quitting smoking. Specifically mention the health benefits, such as having more energy and a reduced risk of cancer and heart and lung diseases. Emphasize the psychological benefits, such as increased self-esteem and self-respect and a sense of accomplishment in quitting. Next, talk about the financial benefits, such as reduced insurance premiums, decreased future healthcare costs, and an almost $2000 savings per year from not buying cigarettes.

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