The ABC approach

The ‘ABC’ approach is a brief intervention model which includes the key steps to helping people who smoke.

These steps are as follows:

  1. Ask all people about their smoking status and document this.
  2. Provide Brief advice to stop smoking to all people who smoke.
  3. Make an offer of, and refer to or provide, evidence based Cessation support.

The ABC approach does not replace specialist smoking cessation treatment.

Smoking cessation specialists, such as Quitline staff, Aukati KaiPaipa and health care workers who have been trained as smoking cessation treatment providers, are a key component of the ABC approach. Click here to find out who else can offer smokefree support.

ABC Key Messages

Here are some key messages regarding the ‘ABC approach’ for smoking cessation for frontline healthcare professionals.

What is ABC?

ABC is a simple memory aid that incorporates the key steps for screening and advising on tobacco use and its treatment. ‘A’ is for asking all people if they smoke; ‘B’ is for giving brief advice to stop smoking; and ‘C’ is for cessation treatment (pharmacological and behavioural), which should be offered to all smokers who have an interest in stopping.

The rationale for this approach is to encourage more people to make more quit attempts, supported with evidence-based treatments, more often.

Having the conversation- click here for a resource about asking someone about their smoking and whether they want to quit.


Key Messages for All Healthcare Workers

(1) One in five New Zealanders smoke, most want to quit1

• Smoking prevalence is highest in Maori women (49%) and men (40%) and Pacific women (29%) and men (32%).

• People smoke primarily because they are addicted to tobacco.

• Most smokers want to quit: 60% have made a quit attempt in the last 5 years, and some 40% made a serious quit attempt in the last year.

• 80% of smokers regret ever starting.

(2) Smoking Kills

• Around 5,000 deaths each year are related to tobacco use and exposure. A third of these deaths occur in middle age.2

• Smoking is associated with increased peri-operative complications and impaired wound healing.

• Smoking during pregnancy has adverse effects on the pregnancy, the foetus, the infant and the mother.

(3) Smoking cessation works and is highly cost-effective3

• For half of all smokers stop smoking treatment will be a life-saving intervention.

• Brief advice to quit from healthcare professionals works. The evidence shows that for every 40 people advised to stop smoking one will go onto quit smoking long-term.

• The long-term (1-year) quit rates associated with unaided quit attempts are low: only 3-5% of smokers who quit unaided will succeed in not smoking for a year.

• There are no ‘silver bullets’ to quit. However there are a number of interventions that increase long-term quit rates. A combination of behavioural support and pharmacotherapy increase quit rates at least 4-fold.

• Quitline, as well as local stop smoking services provide behavioural support.

• All effective pharmacotherapies (nicotine replacement therapy, bupropion, nortriptyline, and varenicline ) are available and subsidised.

(4) NRT – key messages3

• NRT roughly doubles the chances of quitting smoking.

• NRT is effective in alleviating symptoms of tobacco withdrawal and so should be routinely offered to smokers staying in smokefree environments.

• NRT typically provides less nicotine than the smoker would have received from tobacco, and the nicotine is absorbed less rapidly.

• NRT has no drug interactions.

• NRT can be safely used in people with cardiovascular disease and surgical patients, and can be considered for use in pregnant or breastfeeding women.

(5) The ABC approach to smoking cessation

• ABC represents a simple and evidence based approach to guide/support health professionals to better help people who smoke to quit. ABC is about providing good clinical practice providing the best quality care for your patient.

• Your patients expect you to ask about smoking and will appreciate your help and advice.

• The health target is a way of measuring what we are doing to better help people who smoke.

• The ABC approach for smoking cessation should be included in the list of generic competencies that House Officers are expected to achieve.

1. Ministry of Health. Tobacco use in New Zealand. Key findings for the 2009 New Zealand Tobacco Use Survey. Wellington: Ministry of Health, 2010.

2. Ministry of Health. New Zealand Tobacco Use Survey 2008: Quitting results. Wellington: Ministry of Health, 2009.

3. Ministry of Health. Background and Recommendations of The New Zealand Guidelines for Helping People to Stop Smoking