OBJECTIVES: To assess the use and appropriateness of medical advice for smoking cessation provided by registrars in a General Medicine Outpatient Department to an unselected patient population in Switzerland. METHODS: A prospective observational study in which 314 consecutive outpatients were contacted by phone within 24h after their consultation. Questions and information concerning smoking asked and/or provided by the registrar to patients were collected. RESULTS: Eleven registrars (mean age 34 years (range 29-40), 54% females, mean of 5 years (range 3.5-6 years) postgraduate medical training) worked in the Basel University Hospital Medical Outpatient Department during the study period from 01.01.2006 to 31.03.2006. In total 314 participants (mean 48 years, age range 16-71 years, 50% females) completed the study. Registrars queried 81% of the patients about smoking, but inquired about smoking duration only in 44% of the patients. Twenty-eight percent of the patients received information about the risks related to smoking, whereas cessation was discussed only with 10% and offered to 9% of the patients. CONCLUSION: Though most junior physicians in the survey asked about smoking, they failed to appropriately address tobacco-related health issues and offer cessation advice in the majority of cases. Extended regular training for physicians on smoking-related issues will be necessary in order to improve counselling of smokers and meet the global tobacco challenge.