Smoking history- how does it tell me what I need to know?


I understand the "how to" of recording a patient's smoking history (# of packs per day times the # of years patient has smoked)....what I don't understand is I view a patient history and see "19 pack year history," what does that mean? How do I discern how many packs/day x how many years? This is probably a simple thing that I'm making hard, but it just seems like it would be easier to record 2 pack/day x 12 years.... Can anyone explain? Thanks!

Specializes in Psych, ER, Resp/Med, LTC, Education. Has 6 years experience.

I actually work in psych ER where we get a lot of smokers (and other drugs!) and honestly we don't use that calculation. We just record how many packs smoked or cigs per day and maybe how many years-- its knowing how much they smoke that you need to know to be able to figure out what they need in terms of NRT--Nicotine replacement Therapy-- In terms of using this calculation for other purposes-- like maybe the damage done to lungs for a pulmonologist or something....don't know really how they use that data. But like said we use it for NRT. ..........??????

Daytonite, BSN, RN

4 Articles; 14,603 Posts

Specializes in med/surg, telemetry, IV therapy, mgmt. Has 40 years experience.

To me, as a nurse, it is merely a historical fact. In my years as a nurse I can also tell you that this person has a high risk of lung cancer and COPD. He probably has a hacking cough as well and I would assess for it.

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ghillbert, MSN, NP

3,796 Posts

Specializes in CTICU. Has 27 years experience.

It's a total measure, because the total number of cigarettes is more important than the length of time. You can get the same amount of damage from smoking a pack a day for 10 years as you can from smoking 2 packs/day for 5 years ... so both histories would equal 10 pack yrs.

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