Roxy patient story: Now I know why my GP asked those questions about my smoking

Roxy tried talking to her GP about quitting smoking, but she thought the doctor was judging her. Turns out, there were good reasons for her GP’s questions. 

“Smoking sort of controls my life”. Roxy used to think that she controlled her smoking, that she was the boss, but now she realises that smoking actually controls her. It isn’t just the first thing she does when she gets up in the morning, the need for a cigarette is the reason she gets out of bed in the first place. 

As a busy mum taking care of her family, Roxy has always viewed smoking as something for herself – some ‘me time’. But when she realised that she was tempted to give her kids beans on toast for dinner while she bought a packet of cigarettes, she felt selfish and knew that something had to change.

Roxy has previously been to a GP to get help quitting smoking, but she felt judged by all the questions the GP asked. That’s why she lied when the GP asked how many cigarettes she smokes. Roxy said she smokes 10 a day, when she actually goes through 40 cigarettes a day. 

Roxy isn’t alone in this. Lots of smokers feel judged – by their friends and family, by society in general, but also by their GP. They feel that doctors lack empathy and probably won’t understand. That instead of helping, they just lecture at them.1 But as Dr Hester Wilson, GP and Addiction Expert, points out, there is a reason GPs ask so many direct questions: they are trying to understand your level of addiction to nicotine so they can work out how best to help you.  

“It's not about judging, it's about making an assessment. How severe is this dependency?” 

So, if you have a quit chat with your doctor, there are three main questions they may ask you:2

  1. How long after waking do you have your first cigarette?
  2. How many cigarettes do you smoke each day?
  3. Have you had cravings for a cigarette, or urges to smoke and withdrawal symptoms when you have tried to quit?

Smoking within 30 minutes of waking, smoking more than 10 cigarettes a day like Roxy, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms or cravings during quit attempts are all signs of nicotine dependence.2 Answering these questions honestly is important because they will help your doctor understand your level of addiction to nicotine and work out how best to help you quit.

The last time Roxy saw a GP, she walked away frustrated because she lied about her smoking and didn’t mention how much she was struggling with nicotine dependence − and so she didn’t get the help she needed. 

Now that you understand why your GP asks certain questions, you’ll hopefully feel more confident about having a quit chat. Your GP’s questions are intended to help you, not judge you. Your GP really does want to help you take the first step towards quitting − and you’re up to 4x more likely to quit with their help compared to quitting unaided.


©Pfizer 2019
Pfizer Australia Pty Limited. Pfizer Medical Information: 1800 675 229. Sydney, Australia. PP-CHM-AUS-0941, 08/2019

1. Pfizer Data on file. (2017). Direction first consumer research conducted with 101 participants, including ex-smokers and current smokers who were motivated to quit. 

2. Zwar, N., Richmond, R., Borland, R., Peters, M., Litt, J., Bell, J., Caldwell, B. and Ferretter, I.
(2011  updated July 2014). Supporting smoking cessation: A guide for health professionals. Melbourne: The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

3. West, R. (2012). Stop smoking services: Increased chances of quitting. NCSCT Briefing #8. London; National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training.