Clinician's Guide

Conducting an Intake, Assessment and Treatment Planning Session for Tobacco Cessation


This brief guide will take you through the rationale and instructions for completing each section of a four-page Tobacco Cessation Intake, Assessment and Treatment Planning form. This form was developed to help guide a 45 minute intake and assessment session with a patient who uses tobacco.  When using this form, remember that you want to LISTEN to what your patient is telling you so that you can ASK good questions that will help them talk openly about their smoking. Click here to view the form

Although this form has been developed for Mass Health clinicians who will be providing tobacco counseling services under the MassHealthTobacco Cessation Counseling benefit, it can be used by any provider offering tobacco cessation counseling.

The purpose of the intake and assessment form, along with these instructions, is to provide tools and resources for the clinician which will allow him/her to:

  1. Assess tobacco use from the biopsychosocial perspective;
  2. Identify a patient’s strengths and potential barriers to quitting;
  3. Conduct a 45-minute intake and assessment interview which advances the smoker’s readiness to quit and encourages quitting, and
  4. Develop a basic treatment or referral plan based on the assessment.
This intake and assessment session is intended as a starting point, and if the patient is ready to quit,  should lead to either ongoing counseling; a referral to individual or group counseling; QuitWorks; or the Massachusetts Smokers Helpline.

Remember that we are approaching tobacco dependence from a biopsychosocial perspective which consists of physiological, psychological and social aspects. All three aspects must be taken into consideration when assessing a person’s tobacco use and helping him or her develop a plan for quitting.

Also remember that it is thepatient who is the teacher and the expert about his or her own smoking and what may or may not work when quitting! Your goal is to create a supportive environment around behavior change that encourages your patient to talk to you about their smoking; reasons for smoking; reasons for wanting to quit; past successes with quitting smoking and other behavioral changes (such as weight loss or stopping other drug use); concerns about quitting at this time, and possible solutions for dealing with these concerns. The key is to LISTEN not LECTURE.

Consider using these types of open-ended questions throughout the interview:

  • Tell me about your smoking: How did you start? How old were you? What functions or purpose does smoking play in your life? How much do you smoke? Have your smoking patterns changed recently? If so,why?
  • Tell me about your past quitting attempts: How many times have you tried to quit? What and when was your longest quit attempt? What worked then to help you keep from smoking? What caused you to relapse? What do you need to do differently the next time?
  • What needs to change now in order for you to decide to quit in the near future?
  • How can I help you?

This is just a TOOL to help guide your interventions with tobacco users. Everyone will no doubt use it differently, adapting it to fit specific needs and patient population.

You are NOT expected to be the expert when it comes to smoking cessation! But by asking good questions and listening to what your patient is telling you, you can greatly contribute to helping your patient make a quit attempt or moving your patient closer to wanting to quit.

If you are referring your patient on to more intensive counseling (via QuitWorks or an in-house counselor), the information discussed in this initial intake session will help prepare the patient for making a quit attempt.

The remainder of this guide will take you through each of the three sections of the form: Intake, Assessment, and Treatment Planning and Recommendations. Refer to each section of the form as you read through this guide. You can either refer to the blank form, and/or the form that has been completed based on the following case example:Click here to view the completed form

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Case Study Example 

Jane is a 49 year old single mother of 3 teenage children. She currently works part time and is attending school part time to become a medical assistant. She began smoking at age 10, has smoked for 39 years, and currently smokes up to a pack a day. None of her children smoke. Jane has made two quit attempts in the past, both within the last 5 years and both using NRT (21 mg patch) and bupropion (150 mg/day). Her most recent quit attempt was about 6 months ago after she had pneumonia, at which time she was diagnosed with early emphysema. She reports success managing cravings with the medications until the time of relapse at 3 months due to a series of stressful events. She describes her life as very stressful, with a long commute, single parenthood, juggling work, family, school and financial struggles. Jane's medical history includes hypothyroidism with concurrent depression over the last 10 years, both having been controlled with medication. Jane was able to tolerate both her maintenance antidepressant (Zoloft) and the bupropion during her quit attempts. Jane's main motivation to quit again is her health, and hopes to prevent any further progression of her emphysema. Although she is very motivated to quit, she lacks confidence in her ability to be successful.


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Intake Section

The questions in this section are geared towards helping you—and the patient—better understand his or her smoking behavior:

  • Smoking history: Getting a complete smoking history is a critical part of the intake and assessment process. A good history helps you understand what function or role smoking plays in the life of your patient and forms the basis for developing a solid quit plan.

The first two questions in this section (Current number of cigarettes smoked per day, and how soon after waking the first cigarette is smoked) are two very strong indicators of the level of nicotine dependence. The more cigarettes smoked per day and the sooner a person smokes after waking are associated with higher levels of addiction.

Other important information to record in this section includes: Other tobacco use; number of years smoked; activities, situations or emotions that trigger smoking;  a quitting history that includes both the longest quit attempt and the most recent quit attempt; withdrawal symptoms experienced; and the reason(s) for relapse.

  • Other substance use and any recent changes in use : It is important to know if your patient is using other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine, which may affect your patient’s ability to quit tobacco. As you are probably aware, there is a strong association between tobacco use and alcohol/drug use, so any treatment plan must take this into consideration. Sometimes a patient has recently quit or reduced other drug use. This is important information since this could provide an opportunity to explore motivation, identify social supports, and possible strategies that have worked for them in the past. This could also affect the timing of a quit attempt (if recently in recovery they may not be ready yet).
  • Relevant medical history : This is important since there are some chronic diseases and conditions that are not only caused or aggravated by smoking, but may result in contraindications for different forms of pharmacologic treatment, such as NRT, bupropion or Chantix (varenicline). Patients should be referred to their PCP for any treatment or follow-up.
  • Current medications : If a patient is on certain medications, there may be contraindications for the use of specific NRT, bupropion, or Chantix (varenicline). Quitting smoking may also reduce dosage of certain medications, and this could serve as a motivator for quitting.
  • >Environmental/Social history : Factors in a person’s living situation and social environment will influence their smoking behavior and/or desire to quit. These factors may include living/working with smokers, social pressure to quit (or not to quit in some instances), or current stress level at home and work. Since environmental and social factors both produce triggers for smoking, this information helps assess a patient’s current social supports as well as challenges or barriers that will be useful in choosing strategies and designing a treatment plan.
  • Past successes with behavior change : Many of your patients may have already made significant behavioral changes in their life, such as quitting drinking or drugging, or losing a great deal of weight. They have learned valuable skills and insights that can be applied to quitting smoking. Talking about successes can also have a positive effect on the patient’s motivation and confidence.
  • Reasons to Quit Smoking :A patient’s personal reasons to quit smoking will serve as important motivators during the quit process, especially during difficult times, when confronted with triggers or cravings. It is often helpful for a patient to find ways to remind themselves of these reasons during these difficult times
  • Concerns about quitting at this time : Since there is always some degree of anxiety or worry about the quitting process, it is important to address these specifically (e.g. dealing with stress, weight gain, family members who smoke). Building strategies around specific concerns can decrease anxiety, boost confidence and enhance the likelihood of a successful quit attempt.
  • Readiness to quit smoking: This is an opportunity to ask the patient how ready they feel to quit smoking, based on a scale of 1-10. Read them the scale as indicated on the assessment form, and ask them to provide a number on the scale they feel most closely represents how ready they are to quit smoking.

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Based on the information gathered during the intake discussion, you are now ready to assess a patient’s readiness to quit and stage of change. Sometimes a patient will tell a health care provider what they want to hear, so understanding the patient’s true motivations and goals is important when targeting quit strategies. 

Stage of Change:  The stages of change are useful in that they provide a framework to help understand a patient’s issues and readiness to make a change. An individual’s stage can and will vary from day to day! It is important to re-check a patient’s stage of change during each clinical visit or treatment session. The basic goals for patients at each stage of change are as follows:

  1. Precontemplation:  Someone in this stage is not ready to discuss quitting. The goal here is to open the door, get them to at least start thinking about the benefits of quitting. Just an exploration about the role or function of smoking with the patient during this intake and assessment can help move them along towards the contemplation stage.
  2. Contemplation: This patient is considering quitting, but still unsure. The goal in this phase is to tip the scale in favor of quitting, and build confidence and motivation to quit.
  3. Preparation: This patient is ready to set a quit date and the goal here is to develop a specific quit plan and brainstorm coping strategies.
  4. Action: At this stage the patient has already quit so the goal is to review how well the patient’s quit plan is working, what problems they are experiencing and to discuss how to prevent relapse.

Patient strengths: Identifying patient strengths from the intake discussion will help in designing a treatment plan, and boost motivation and confidence in the quit process. Strengths could include a strong motivation to quit; good social supports; high self-efficacy (confidence in quitting); previous successes with tobacco or other substances. Strengths might also be a current environment that supports quitting, such as a family member or friend that recently quit, or a work situation that limits smoking.

Potential barriers to treatment: Such barriers could include household members and/or co-workers that smoke; high current stress levels; or major concern about weight gain. Specific barriers need to be considered when setting reasonable goals and identifying specific quit strategies.

Ready to set quit date? Ask the patient directly if they are ready to set a date. If yes- work together to come up with a date that seems reasonable to them. Help the patient identify current factors in their lives; e.g. a time when they will be around fewer smokers or be under less stress (perhaps an upcoming vacation or a visit from children or grandchildren); whether it is better to be a weekend or weekday; or a date of significance such as a birthday or anniversary. Setting and recording a date will affirm the commitment to begin the quit process.

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Treatment Planning and Recommendations

The treatment plan will depend on both the results of the intake and assessment and resources available to you. If multiple resources are available, discuss preferences and practicalities with the patient. A treatment plan should always be created through collaboration between provider and patient.

Pharmacotherapy is generally recommended unless there are contraindications. To view our Quick Guide to Nicotine Dependence Pharmacotherapy: click here 

Individual or Group Counseling:  Research shows that a patient has a greater chance of success with a combination of pharmacotherapy and intensive support (individual, telephone or group counseling).* Check to see if you have any on-site counseling programs available.

QuitWorks is a free, evidence-based stop-smoking service developed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in collaboration with all major health plans in Massachusetts. It is a proactive telephone counseling program that can be used by any Massachusetts health care provider. Enrollment forms are faxed by the provider to the Massachusetts Smokers Helpline, and telephone counselors call the patient within 3-5 days. Information and enrollment forms can be found at   

Patients can be referred directly to the Massachusetts Smokers Helpline, 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) [English] or 1-800-833-5256 [Spanish] in which case the patient is responsible for making the contact with a trained telephone counselor.

It is recommended that brief quit smoking suggestions be provided to the patient during this interview, and prompts are incorporated into the treatment planning section of the form.

The final section of the form is a place for provider to write any other recommendations or comments.

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Remember – quitting smoking is a process. Both providers and patients need to view setbacks as opportunities for learning, not as failures. Patients need continued reinforcement to build their skills, motivation and confidence. 


*Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 2000 and 2008 update.