Breathe Easy: 8 Tips for Helping Them Quit


Smoking-cessation programs tap pharmacists’ expertise — and represent a potentially significant opportunity for more patient engagement and additional revenue.

Nearly 44 million Americans were smokers in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of all smokers tried to quit in 2010, and 69% of smokers say they want to quit.[1] This represents a large market and a big potential opportunity for community pharmacies to provide valuable services and products.

ACA Creates Additional Incentive to Quit

Under the Affordable Care Act, starting January 1, 2014, health insurance companies are allowed to charge tobacco users insurance premiums up to 50% higher than non-users pay. The law also includes requirements for insurers to cover tobacco-cessation services.[2] Those provisions add extra incentives and access to resources for the millions of current smokers who already want to quit using tobacco. (Note: Several sections of the ACA mention tobacco-cessation programs. What is covered can be affected by state regulations and coverage requirements for various types of insurance. So, make sure to check with your state and the payers with whom you do business.)

This is relevant for community pharmacies because research has shown that counseling by trained pharmacists can boost efforts to quit.[3]

Capitalizing on the Opportunity

November is a great time to start promoting your smoking-cessation services. The Great American Smokeout is the third Thursday of November, and the American Cancer Society encourages smokers to make that their first tobacco-free day. Visit here for additional general information for healthcare providers from the American Cancer Society.

The opportunities to encourage tobacco cessation don’t end there. Some smokers decide the best Christmas gift they can give their loved ones is to kick the habit, and New Year’s resolutions often include goals to quit smoking and develop healthier habits.

Build on those good intentions with these 8 actions:

  1. Create an area devoted to smoking cessation. Place smoking-cessation information and products in one handy resource center. Promote less expensive private-label alternatives to major brand nicotine gums and patches, like Sunmark® and Health Mart® brand products. If your pharmacy is tobacco-free, mention that in your marketing to people who want to quit.
  2. Educate smokers. Educate smokers about possible drug interactions and options such as prescription and over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies. This can be done in person and information can be provided online. Counsel them about what to expect when they quit and effective strategies for staying away from tobacco. A combination of counseling and medication is more effective than either strategy alone.[4]
    Shane Becker, pharmacist in charge at Old Town Pharmacy in Monett, Missouri, talks with people about their options and what may work best for them. He’ll also offer to package medication in a week’s supply, making the cost comparable to what people already are spending on tobacco. If he senses they are ready to move forward, he’ll offer to fax information to their doctor. “I really try to push them, to get them to commit,” he said, to take the next step toward breaking their nicotine addiction.
  3. Gain commitment. Sponsor an event that signifies people’s commitment to quit using tobacco. Old Town Pharmacy is one of the community locations where people can sign up for the smoking-cessation program during the Great American Smokeout. They receive information and a turkey sandwich (to signify going “cold turkey”) and can drop off their last pack of cigarettes. Provide pledge cards for them to sign, with a place to list the reasons they want to quit. To help them recognize the potential benefits, provide handouts that explain the impact of tobacco on their health and those around them, such as the effects of secondhand smoke on children.
  4. Form partnerships. Consider partnering with the American Cancer Society to hold an event or campaign related to the Great American Smokeout. Also, explore partnering with other local businesses to reward the commitment to quit. Offer prizes such as a turkey sandwich from a restaurant (for going “cold turkey”), a free training session at a local health club, or drawings for prizes when they reach milestones, such as three months tobacco-free. Collaborating with other organizations and businesses will allow you to help expand the reach of your program and minimize the cost. Partnerships can also help drive traffic to your store.
  5. Offer ongoing support and motivation. Schedule classes on related topics, such as stress management and healthy eating. Send motivational messages by email and through your pharmacy’s social media sites. Research has shown that counseling on practical skills such as problem solving and telephone “quitline” support also are effective treatments.[5]
  6. Publicize your expertise. Be sure the community knows your pharmacy is the place to go when people want to quit using tobacco. Send out press releases to local media when your pharmacists complete training for tobacco-cessation counseling and when you offer new services or products. Contact local physicians and other health centers to make them aware of your smoking-cessation offerings and explain how you can partner with them in treating patients who are ready to quit.Reach out to media contacts who may be covering tobacco-related stories, such as the Great American Smokeout, and offer to serve as a source for their stories. Don’t wait for them to call you. Discover how to use such activities to build your reputation (see Become Your Community’s Go-To Health Expert).
  7. Make news. Hold classes and other events centered on helping people quit smoking. November is a great time to link your newsworthy actions to the Great American Smokeout. In 2012 Old Town Pharmacy partnered with health departments, hospitals and other pharmacies for a Great American Smokeout event. Read the article Create Buzz for Your Pharmacy for more ideas to gain media coverage for your tobacco-cessation programs.
  8. Measure results. Give participants pharmacy-branded calendars on which they can mark off the number of days they have stayed smoke-free. Encourage quitters to come back for regular blood-pressure screenings, so they can see the impact on their health.

Community pharmacies are uniquely positioned to help people kick the habit, because you can combine medical knowledge, products and easy access in one place. For your pharmacy, an emphasis on smoking cessation is one more way to help improve the health of your community, and one more opportunity to market your store’s unique areas of expertise.

Online smoking-cessation resources:

  • The Great American Smokeout section of the American Cancer Society’s website includes several resources and tools for people who want to quit smoking, including a list of the health benefits.
  • The Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of California, San Francisco, includes links to tobacco-cessation training programs in its Tools and Resources section.
  • includes a section of resources for health professionals.

Note: The information provided here is for reference use only and does not constitute the rendering of legal or other professional advice by McKesson. Readers should consult appropriate professionals for advice and assistance prior to making important decisions regarding their business. McKesson is not advocating any particular program or approach herein. McKesson is not responsible for, nor will it bear any liability for the content provided herein.
[1] “Tobacco Use in the United States,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 5, 2013.
[2] “Tobacco-Related Provisions of the Affordable Care Act,” American Lung Association, 2012.
[3] “Effectiveness of a Pharmacist-Based Smoking-Cessation Program and Its Impact on Quality of Life,” Medscape, 2002,
[4] “Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence: 2008 Update,” Tobacco Use and Dependence Guideline Panel, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, May 2008,
[5] “Smoking Cessation,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 5, 2013.