Give it Up—Join the Great American Smokeout

Every year on the fourth Thursday of November, Americans gather with friends and family to partake of a Thanksgiving feast, and to celebrate family, fellowship and gratitude.  We can’t do it alone; celebrating Thanksgiving by oneself is not a great way to observe the day.

One week prior to that day, on the third Thursday of November, Americans who smoke are urged to gather—at least in spirit—with other smokers to try to give up smoking—at least for one day.  It is best not to try to do it alone; relying on support from others is often more successful than trying to quit alone.

The Great American Smokeout is sponsored by the American Cancer Society.  In 1970 in Randolph, Massachusetts, Arthur Mullaney asked people to give up cigarettes for a day, and donate the money they would have spent on cigarettes to a local high school scholarship fund.

Bear in mind that during this era, smoking was very common, and secondhand smoke was not seen as a violation of a non-smoker’s clean air.

The idea took off, and by the late 1970’s, it was an annual tradition.

Research and statistics prove that support is essential for quitting and maintaining a healthier lifestyle by staying away from smoking. We know that people experience greater success rates with their efforts when they have support from others in the forms of the following:

  • Encouragement, support and positive feedback from family and friends
  • Telephone hotlines dedicated to smoking cessation
  • support groups/online support groups

Other important recommendations include:

  • Nicotine replacement products
  • Prescription medicine to lessen cravings
  • Counseling
  • Alternative activities to promote health such as exercise groups to fill time and energy formerly devoted to smoking
  • Combining two or more of these activities increases success

Many non-smokers and former smokers use this day to promote awareness of the health risks of smoking, the social and hygiene liabilities, and to show smokers that there is life after smoking.   In addition, it is seen as a day of heightened awareness to further non-smoking causes such as more firm tobacco laws, decreased teenage smoking, increased tobacco taxes and improvement of non-smoker’s rights such as more widespread non-smoking areas in public facilities and places of business.

“My dad smoked in the house for my first 18 years.   None of us liked it, but in the 70’s, we didn’t know how bad it was.  Plus, he was the dad, and you didn’t question it. 

When I went to work in the school system, and kids would come to school smelling like cigarette smoke, I felt so bad for them.  Then, I realized I was one of those kids who smelled like cigarette smoke.

Dad had serious health issues when I was in my 20’s, and finally gave up smoking.  It is never too late.  I always worried he would develop lung cancer, but he didn’t.”

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Many former smokers will tell you their senses of taste and smell improve after they quit.  When they smell it on others, it may even be repulsive, knowing they smelled like that for a long time.

Some former smokers will tell you they haven’t missed it once.  Others will tell you they want to smoke every day, and it is hardest when someone around them smokes.  It is an addiction for many, and addictions are sometimes something one must find a way to manage forever.

Nearly all of them will tell you they feel better, have more energy and have a better self-image when they quit smoking.

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Simple, tried-and-true tips like the ones below are always important to try:

  • Finding replacement habits is known to help somewhat.  Keeping one’s hands busy with something is often a good strategy.  After years of holding a cigarette, the habit is still there, wanting to be fulfilled.  Holding a bottle of water is probably the best replacement.
  • Chewing gum or keeping breath mints is a good replacement for the oral sensation that is missed after one quits smoking.
  • Over-the counter nicotine replacement therapies are available, including gums, lozenges, sprays and patches.
  • Online resources and telephone hotlines can be found by an online search for groups like “Nicotine Anonymous.”
  • Finding what your strongest triggers are is an important step in beating the habit.  If you typically smoke when you get home from work, make alternate plans such as going out for afternoon tea, taking a walk, or calling a friend or family member.
  • Enlisting the help of a buddy who also needs to quit is a very good idea.  Being accountable to another person to change old habits or form new positive ones can make all the difference.  If you know someone else is depending on you, it may be the tipping point that keeps you going until this new pattern becomes an ingrained habit.  This works for exercising or other healthy lifestyle changes as well, including dieting.

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Be nice to yourself when you are making this lifestyle change.  If it doesn’t work the first time, try trying again.  Be persistent.  Change takes time and sometimes multiple efforts.  It may be one step up and two steps back sometimes, but if you know in your heart of hearts that you can and should make this change, keep that foremost.  Keep telling yourself you can do it.  Many other people have made this change, and there is nothing different about you that would keep you from doing it too.

Go ahead.  Be a quitter.  You won’t regret it.