For the past 32 years, the Great American Smokeout has made being a quitter something to celebrate. The event challenges tobacco users to quit for at least one day with the hope that single day will be the catalyst to quit completely.
In the past it has been celebrated with rallies and parades, and has been chaired by celebrities like Sammy Davis Jr., Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, and Mr. Potato Head.
This year, the Great American Smokeout is slated for Thursday, November 19. The day not only serves as a target date for many people’s smoking cessation efforts, but also to help raise awareness about the dangers of smoking and the many ways available to quit smoking for good.
The original idea for the Great American Smokeout sprung from a Massachusetts man in 1971. Arthur Mullaney, a former guidance counselor at Randolph High School in Randolph, MA, asked townspeople to give up smoking for a day and to donate the money they would have spent on tobacco to the local high school scholarship fund.
“Kids used to come into my office after school, and one day we were talking about college. I said, ‘you know, if I could have a nickel for every cigarette butt I see outside we'd have enough money to send all of you to college,’” Mullaney told ACS News Today in a 2001 interview. According to Mullaney, that was the first time an entire town quit smoking.
A few years later, Lynn Smith, editor of the Monticello Times, led the charge to create Minnesota's first D-Day (Don't Smoke Day). The idea gained momentum and on November 18, 1976, the California chapter of the American Cancer Society encouraged nearly one million smokers to quit for the day. With the success in California, the ACS took the event nationwide in 1977.
The take home message here is that smoking is the most preventable cause of death in our society, according the American Cancer Society. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women, and this year there will be about 169,500 new cases diagnosed in the US. More than 80% of lung cancers are thought to result from smoking. It is also a factor for heart disease, the number one killer of Americans.
Over the years, the Great American Smokeout has made some progress in helping educate people about the dangers of smoking. When it started 70 million Americans once smoked. An estimated 40 million U.S. adults still smoke, about 21 percent of the population. Although teen smoking seems to be on the rise, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report says adult smoking has been declining since the late 1960s.
The public has increasingly shifted its perception of smoking. Once the symbol of glamour, status, virility and masculinity has now become a general perception that smoking is a dying public health danger. Feeding that perception are indoor smoking laws, cigarette taxes and Congress's recent decision to allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco. Today, all but 13 U.S. states have enacted public smoking bans.
Research shows that people who stop smoking before age 50 can cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years in half compared with those who continue to smoke. Smokers who quit also reduce their risk of lung cancer – ten years after quitting, the lung cancer death rate is about half that of a continuing smoker’s.
Anyone who has ever kicked the habit can tell you that quitting is tough, especially when you try to tackle the challenge alone. Smokers are more successful in quitting when they have support from family and friends. Nicotine replacement products, prescription medications and tips from stop-smoking guides can also be helpful in making your cessation successful. Here are a few tools to add to your arsenal.
1. The Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Women’s Health guide
Smoking: Medicines to Help You reviews common nicotine replacement products such as lozenges, inhalers, nasal sprays, gum and the patch. It also covers non-nicotine medicines only available by prescription.
2. The American Cancer Society offers a free Quitline operated and managed by Free & Clear® at 1-800-227-2345 for tobacco cessation and coaching services that can help smokers increase their chances of quitting for good. ACS also offers information on
smoking cessation resources that may be in your area.
The Great American Smokeout Web site contains user-friendly tips and tools moving forward towards a smoke-free life. In addition to tip sheets and calculators, the site also offers downloadable desktop helpers to assist with planning to quit and succeeding in staying tobacco-free. The Quit Clock allows users to pick a quit day within 30 days, then counts down the selected day with tips for each day; and the Craving Stopper helps smokers beat cravings by offering a fun distraction.
Quit Tobacco—Make Everyone Proud, an educational campaign for the U.S. military, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense is a web site that has several tips and tools to help you or a loved one quit smoking.
So go ahead, and make your move by joining the Great American Smokeout. You'll be surprised at how quickly your body starts to recover when you don't smoke. For instance, 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your blood pressure will go down toward your baseline level and your heart rate will become slower. After 12 hours, the carbon monoxide levels in your lungs will return to normal. And that's just in the first day!
Lynette Summerill, is an award-winning journalist who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues, she writes a blog, Nonsmoking Nation, which follows global tobacco news and events.