The Great American Smokeout: A Great Day To Quit Smoking.

Each year, the third Thursday of November welcomes the Great American Smokeout to the calendar – a nationwide opportunity for those of us who want to give up smoking to find mass support. The event also provides a handy start date for anyone who has been pondering quitting but has not quite got around to deciding on a deadline for that last cigarette.
woman snapping a cigarette
The Great American Smokeout encourages smokers to make a plan to quit permanently or just quit smoking on that day.

The Great American Smokeout was inspired by localized anti-smoking events in the early 1970s. The first of these was a fundraising drive that took place in Randolph, MA, in 1970.

Randolph citizens were asked to stop smoking for 1 day and donate the money they would have spent on cigarettes to a high school scholarship fund instead.

In 1974, the Monticello Times in Minnesota launched the first “Don’t Smoke Day” (or “D-Day”) in the state. D-Day led to the California Division of the American Cancer Society holding the first Great American Smokeout on 18th November, 1976.

The American Cancer Society reports that on that first Californian Smokeout, nearly 1 million smokers quit for the day. In 1977, the organization made the Great American Smokeout a national event.

An important step toward a healthier life’

The Great American Smokeout encourages smokers to make a plan to quit permanently or just quit smoking on that day.

Fast facts about smoking

  • About 87% of lung cancerdeaths in men and 70% in women are thought to result from smoking
  • Smoking is responsible for nearly 1 in 5 deaths in the US
  • Around 8.6 million people live with serious illnesses caused by smoking.

Learn more about smoking

“By quitting, even for 1 day,” the American Cancer Society claim, “smokers will be taking an important step toward a healthier life – one that can lead to reducing cancer risk.”

The Smokeout also attempts to raise awareness on the role smoking plays in death and chronic disease.

Both the challenge and awareness campaigns are disseminated through volunteers in local towns and communities who organize rallies, parades and stunts in the Great American Smokeout’s name and provide information on quitting smoking.

A popular light-hearted component of the Smokeout in modern times is for schools, workplaces and administrative buildings across the US to offer “coldturkey” options on cafeteria menus.

1 in 5 Americans smoke cigarettes

Although much has changed since that first Smokeout in 1970 – most public places and work areas in the US are now smoke-free, for instance – 42 million Americans (about 1 in 5) still smoke cigarettes. In addition, 13.4 million Americans smoke cigars and 2.3 million Americans are pipe smokers.

The premise of the Smokeout relies on the initial benefits from smoking cessation. As the American Cancer Society say:

“The health benefits of quitting start immediately from the moment of smoking cessation. Quitting while you are younger will reduce your health risks more, but quitting at any age can give back years of life that would be lost by continuing to smoke.”

Using two or more methods of support, the organization says, is proven to work better than using any one method. Examples of these methods include telephone smoking cessation hotlines, quitting groups, counseling, nicotine replacement products, prescription medicine, guide books and support from family and friends.

The American Cancer Society have a hotline at (800) 227-2345 that offers information on what cessation support options are available in your local area. Many communities, employers and health care organizations, for instance, provide free or low-cost counseling.

This year’s tips for quitting

Offering further tips on giving up smoking in 2016, the American Cancer Society urge those quitting to “Dump the memories. Clear the places where you usually smoke of anything that reminds you of cigarettes – like lighters, ashtrays or matches.”

person smoking and drinking coffee
Drinking water, rather than coffee or alcohol, can be helpful for people who find those beverages trigger a desire to smoke.

They say that those quitting should also avoid places where smokers gather, ask other smokers not to smoke around them, and to clean their house and car thoroughly to remove the smell of cigarettes.

“Stay calm and stay busy,” the Society’s experts suggest. “You may feel some nervous energy but it can be countered by physical and mental activities. Take long strolls and deep breaths of fresh air, and find things to keep your hands busy, like crossword puzzles or yard work. There are a lot of leaves on the ground at this time of year.”

Drinking water, rather than coffee or alcohol, can be helpful for people who find those beverages trigger a desire to smoke. And for those who think just the occasional cheeky cigarette is not breaking the rules:

“One will hurt. Many people fall into the trap of thinking that if they only have one cigarette it’s okay. But even that one smoke can get you back in the habit of smoking full time. Keeping a supply of oral substitutes like carrots, apples, raisins or gum handy can help.”

Anti-tobacco policy campaigning and the Smokeout

As well as promoting awareness and encouraging cessation, the Great American Smokeout also galvanizes ongoing campaigning to push through anti-tobacco policies.

Among the successful anti-tobacco efforts linked by the American Cancer Society to the Great American Smokeout include:

  • The federal ban, implemented in 1990, of smoking on interstate buses and domestic flights of 6 hours or less
  • The passing of the Master Settlement Agreement in 1999, which required tobacco companies to pay $206 billion to 45 states by the year 2025 to cover Medicaid costs of treating smokers. Tobacco advertising in cartoons and on billboards was also banned as part of the agreement
  • The signing in to law of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate the sale, manufacturing and marketing of tobacco products.

As evidence of the efficacy of policy changes such as this, the organization points to a decrease of cigarette smoking prevalence in the US that has plummeted from more than 42% of the general population in 1965 to around 18% today.

In 1964, the first report on “Smoking and Health” by the US Surgeon General had been published, which corroborated the earlier recommendations of the Royal College of Physicians in the UK that tobacco advertising and public smoking be restricted and cigarettes be subject to increased taxation. Since 1967, the US Surgeon General has issued an annual report on smoking and health.

Public awareness of the dangers of tobacco has increased dramatically in that time, thanks not only to developments in science, but also to large-scale public campaigns such as the Great American Smokeout.

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