Tobacco use will become the world's foremost cause of premature death and disability within 20 years unless current trends are reversed. Many opportunities to reduce this epidemic are missed in primary care. This Discussion paper from the International Primary Care Respiratory Group (IPCRG) - which reflects the IPCRG's understanding of primary care practitioners' needs - summarises a new approach based on strong evidence for effective interventions. All primary care health professionals can increase smoking cessation rates among their patients, even when time and resources are limited. Medical and non-medical staff can support patients who choose to quit by providing information, referral to telephone counselling services, and behavioural counselling using motivational interviewing techniques, where resources permit. Drug therapy to manage nicotine dependence can significantly improve patients' chances of quitting successfully, and is recommended for people who smoke 10 or more cigarettes per day. All interventions should be tailored to the individual's circumstances and attitudes.