3 simple ways to reach patients who smoke

The Great American Smokeout, observed Nov. 15, may come just once a year, but the messages it reinforces pertain at any point on the calendar. In other words, there's never a bad time to initiate a candid discussion with patients who smoke.

After all, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the organizer of the Smokeout, tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. Yet nearly 44 million Americans – nearly one in every five adults -- still smoke cigarettes (and another 15 million smoke cigars or pipes).

If your personal style leans toward positive messaging, here are some quick facts you can present to patients that may leave a lasting impression when it comes to smoking cessation.

The body responds quickly and vigorously
Citing various reports from the U.S. Surgeon General, the ACS notes that:

  • Circulation improves and lung function increases in a timeframe of two weeks to three months after quitting.
  • Coughing and shortness of breath decrease within one to nine months after quitting, while cilia start to regain normal function within the same timeframe.
  • Excess risk of coronary heart disease drops to half that of a continuing smoker's risk one year after quitting.
  • Risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder drops by 50 percent five years after quitting. During the same five-year span, cervical cancer risk falls to that of a non-smoker. Stroke risk can fall to that of a non-smoker after two to five years.
  • The risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a smoker 10 years after quitting.

Think of the money you'll save
Who doesn't like to save money (other than Jimmy Fallon's young nemesis in Capital One commercials)? You can quickly lay out a solid financial case for quitting by quoting a few basic calculations.

Unless you live in New York, Seattle or Honolulu -- where a pack of Marlboro Reds with tax costs anywhere from $10 to $12 – you can probably estimate average pack cost at $6.

A half-pack-per-day habit costs $21 per week, which may not seem excessive, but still aggregates to more than $1,000 per year. A patient who's been smoking at that rate for five years has sent more than $5,000 up in smoke.

And that doesn't include possible higher costs for health and life insurance.

Kids pay attention to their parents' habits
When asked, nearly all smokers say they don't want their children to smoke, according to the ACS. However, children whose parents smoke are more likely to start smoking themselves.

"You can be a better role model for them by quitting now," the ACS notes.