The Great American Smokeout

Everyone has them.  I have them, you have them, every one of your family and friends have them.

Bad habits, that is.  Some are venial, mild offenses. Others, however, may make the difference between life and death.  Smoking cigarettes is one such habit that may indeed take your life.

About 34 million American adults smoke cigarettes, which is 19% of our population.  This number has come down from a high of 42% in 1965, but it remains far too high.  It is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States, as well as throughout the world.  Statistically, one in five deaths can be attributed to smoking, equaling approximately 480,000 American deaths annually. 

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In 1977, the American Cancer Society hosted the first nationwide Great American Smokeout. The idea began in 1970 when Mr. Arthur Mullaney of Randolph, Massachusetts, asked anyone he knew who smoked to give up cigarettes for just one day, and donate the money they saved to a local high school scholarship fund. 

Four years later in Monticello, Minnesota, Lynn R. Smith, the editor of the town’s newspaper, spearheaded the state’s first D-Day:  Don’t Smoke Day.

This idea caught on, and on November 18th, 1976, the California Division of the American Cancer Society prompted nearly one million smokers to quit smoking for the day. 

This became the first official Smokeout, and the next year in 1977, it became a nationwide event. 

The third Thursday in November—exactly one week before Thanksgiving—is the annual Smokeout.  In 2022, it is observed on November 18th

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As soon as a person stops smoking, the nicotine level in the blood begins to decrease, as does the heart rate.  Coughing and shortness of breath decrease, and after a few years, the risk of heart attack drops sharply.  Perhaps the most important benefit is this:  stopping smoking makes the person feel better. 

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Nicotine addiction is one of the hardest habits to break.  It is a chemical addiction in the body, as well as a behavioral habit in the mind.  Any behavior that is repeated over a long period of time can easily become a habit, and those that convince the body it cannot function without the particular substance become an addiction. 

Caffeine is one such substance that many millions of people—including myself—are physically addicted to.  My experience is that if I don’t have coffee, I do not have the very real physical energy, and I develop a headache without the caffeine in my system.  I crave it beyond words. This constitutes an addiction, and I acknowledge that.

I understand, too, that a nicotine addiction is much harder to break.  I see it in my friends who smoke, but I remember it most clearly when I was a child, watching my dad try to quit smoking cigarettes.  He didn’t succeed until his life literally depended upon it, uttering that promise to us through tubes and hoses attached to his body after he came out of life-saving surgery. 

He kept that promise and survived many more years after that, chewing gum instead of smoking cigarettes. 

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If you are reading this prior to the Great American Smokeout date—November 18th, 2022, and you want to join the bandwagon to quit smoking, you are in luck.  Making the mental commitment is the first step.  After that, the following steps may help: 

  • Check out the American Cancer Society website:  cancer.org/healthy/stay-away-from-tobacco/great-american-smokeout.  It has multiple sources of ideas and inspiration.
  • Find a buddy to share the journey with.  Being accountable to another person helps with the commitment to improve yourself.   Call or text them when you need to divert your attention.  Offer them the same inspiration.
  • Calculate the amount of money you would save in a month, in a year, etc.  If you stop smoking, you immediately increase your chances of living longer to enjoy that extra money!
  • Consider the effect your smoking habit has on your loved ones.  Secondhand smoke is a very real health threat.   Also, your children may smell like smoke in school, or with their friends. 
  • When you feel the urge to light up, set a timer on your phone for one minute, and make yourself wait.  Next time, set it for two, then three, and keep going. 
  • Divert your attention with a walk around the block, or give yourself permission to scroll mindlessly through Facebook. 
  • Replace one habit with another.  Part of a bad habit such as smoking is the physical feeling of having something in your hand to raise to your lips.  Try replacing at least one cigarette a day with a sucker, or perhaps a glass of your favorite juice you don’t normally let yourself drink. 

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You don’t have to wait until November 18th to stop smoking.  If you are ready today, go for it, and best of luck!  If, however, the idea that being part of a larger group dedicated to the same goal helps, then check out the online resources noted above to gear up to be in that winning group, starting November 18th

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YOU CAN DO IT!