Physician advice for smoking cessation in primary care: time for a paradigm shift?

Kirsten Bell, Michele Bowers, Lucy McCullough, Jennifer Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


General practitioners are often exhorted to routinely counsel patients who smoke about quitting in light of current evidence-based medicine (EBM) guidelines suggesting that such brief interventions provide an easy and effective way of increasing quit rates. Drawing on semi-structured interviews conducted with 25 smokers and 10 general practitioners (GPs) in British Columbia, Canada, this article explores smokers’ and GPs’ perspectives on smoking cessation interventions in primary care settings. Study findings indicate that both patients and GPs believe smoking is best broached when it is patient-initiated or raised in the context of smoking-related health issues, and there was a broader consensus that the role of doctors is to provide education and information rather than coercing smokers to quit. However, smokers wanted further recognition of the difficulties of quitting smoking and many questioned the competence of GPs to deal with addiction-related issues. Similar barriers to smoking cessation were raised by smokers and GPs – primarily inadequate time and resources. Based on these findings, we argue that the assumption that primary care consultations provide an important venue for encouraging smokers to quit deserves reconsideration based on the complexity of this issue, the circumstances in which most GPs practice, and the danger of alienating smokers. Questions are raised about whether current EBM guidelines are an adequate tool for guiding individual clinical interactions between GPs and smokers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-24
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • health promotion
  • population health
  • primary care

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