The Respiratory Therapist and Tobacco Cessation

Every respiratory therapist knows tobacco use is responsible for a large percentage of the chronic lung disease out there today and quitting smoking is key to recovery and rehabilitation. Is there a role for the respiratory therapist and tobacco cessation?

Living proof

Cynthia Woods
Cynthia Woods

Cynthia Woods, RRT, RPFT, CTTS, is living proof there is. As director of the HealthLink and Smoking Cessation Programs at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, she has a long history of involvement in the area, beginning back in 2004 as the inpatient smoking cessation counselor and then transitioning later that year to the employee/student health department to help implement a new smoke-free policy on campus.

“Part of that duty included developing a cessation program that would help our employees and students quit their tobacco use,” says the AARC member. “This would also help with compliance with the new policy and meet the needs of the collective bargaining units that had agreed to the new policy for their represented members, as this was a union environment.”

In order to assure the union she was qualified for the job, Upstate sent Woods to the Mayo Clinic to be trained as a certified tobacco treatment specialist (CTTS). “The President’s Committee felt that this was the ‘Gold Standard’ and best practice at the time,” says the therapist, and that opinion has persisted over time.

Woods says Upstate now has four clinicians on staff who have been trained at Mayo and hold the CTTS credential. All but one of them is a respiratory therapist. One focuses on inpatients and another works solely with employees and outpatients at the Cancer Center. Woods now concentrates on community classes, along with worksite classes held for area corporations seeking to become smoke-free.

Perfectly placed

Given their firsthand experience with diseases caused by tobacco use or exposure to tobacco, Woods feels RTs are “in the perfect place to counsel people on their tobacco use.” The key is to get some additional training to ensure you are up to the task.

“If trained correctly to have a ‘motivational interviewing’ style conversation, an RT could make a dramatic impact on the tobacco user at a time when he or she may be most motivated to make a behavior change, such as in the hospital or ED,” she says. “RTs understand the impact of carbon monoxide exposure on oxygenation and can use that to educate and motivate smokers to quit.”

As a graduate of the Mayo Clinic program she naturally favors that training, but notes several other schools are now offering similar training as well. Earning the CTTS credential lends credibility to the therapist’s expertise too, and additional training in counseling and motivational interviewing can also be helpful.

At a minimum, she believes RTs thinking about getting into the area should have a solid understanding of these four things:

  • Motivational interviewing skills.
  • The dosing and proper use of the seven FDA approved cessation medications.
  • Knowledge of other forms of tobacco and tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, snus, chew, snuff, etc.
  • Knowledge of local community resources to which patients can be referred, like Quitlines, classes, etc.