The Great American Smokeout® began as a single event in a small town, but over the years it has become a nationwide opportunity for smokers to make a healthy decision that could save their lives. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), which organizes the annual Smokeout, roughly half of all Americans who continue to smoke will die because of it.
The 2019 Great American Smokeout is Thursday, November 21. Held annually on the third Thursday of the month, the Smokeout is an invitation to smokers to stop smoking, and an opportunity for their community to lend support.
Tobacco products contain nicotine, which is extremely addictive. Cigarettes, chew, snus, vaping — these are all hard habits to stop. Even though people know the health risks of cigarettes, many have to quit dozens of times before it finally works. Some are never able to stop.
The Great American Smokeout is a moment to recognize the importance of small steps. After all, every quitter’s story began with the first full day they went without tobacco.
“You don’t have to stop smoking in one day,” reads this year’s flyer for the Great American Smokeout. “Start with day one.”
If you use tobacco products, take the day off. Donate the money you would have spent on tobacco to a good cause. Learn about the resources available to people who are trying to stay tobacco-free, and start down a path toward a longer, fitter life.
Individuals and businesses can use the day to publicize the risks of tobacco use. They can encourage people to lose a deadly habit or share information that will help their friend and co-workers stay non-smokers for life.
Tobacco Prevention and the Public Health
The accomplishments of the Great American Smokeout and the larger tobacco-prevention movement can hardly be overstated. Nowadays, it doesn’t seem like a huge deal that airplanes and restaurants are smoke-free, but it was a long fight to get there.
This is not to say that tobacco use is no longer a problem. Roughly 34 million Americans still smoke cigarettes and 16 million live with smoking-related diseases.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking causes 480,000 deaths each year, making it the leading cause of preventable death. That’s nearly 1 out every 5 deaths in the United States. Compared to non-smokers, smokers are much more likely to develop heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.
The CDC estimates that smoking increases the risk:
- For coronary heart disease by 2 to 4 times
- For stroke by 2 to 4 times
- Of men developing lung cancer by 25 times
- Of women developing lung cancer by 25.7 times
Because the health effects of cigarettes are so bad, the positive impact of quitting is huge. Within 12 hours of quitting, a person’s carbon monoxide level returns to normal. Within a year, their risk of coronary heart disease is cut in half.
How Did the Great American Smokeout Get Started?
In 1965, 42% of adult Americans smoked cigarettes. It was normal for people to smoke indoors, around children, and even in the doctor’s office. The first events that became the Great American Smokeout emerged as American attitudes about respiratory health were undergoing a massive change.
The first “smokeout” event was kicked off in 1970 by Arthur P. Mullaney, a guidance counselor at Randolph High School in Massachusetts. He asked people to give up smoking for the day and donate the money to a scholarship fund. In 1974, Don’t Smoke Day, or “D-Day,” was promoted by Lynn R. Smith, editor of the Monticello Times in Minnesota.
These events were local, but they tapped into the universal wish to see friends and family live longer. In 1976, when the California Division of the ACS observed the first official Smokeout event, nearly 1 million people participated. It was such a tremendous success that ACS took the event national the following year.
Asbestos & Mesothelioma Cancer Prevention
At the same time America was beginning to reckon with its tobacco problem, it had to address another serious threat to the nation’s lungs — asbestos and mesothelioma cancer. American consumption of asbestos reached its peak in the 1970s, with the toxic mineral finding its way into everything from brake pads to roofing tiles.
For years, the asbestos industry had convinced the country that asbestos was safe to use. Privately, they knew the cancer risks, and millions of people, many of them veterans, were needlessly exposed to asbestos.
Exposure to asbestos, typically by inhalation, can lead to mesothelioma, an incurable cancer. Because of its long latency period, many people who were exposed in the 1970s and 1980s are only showing signs and symptoms of mesothelioma now.
Stand Up and Smokeout the Lobbyists
Like Big Tobacco, the asbestos industry has continued to fight for its products despite the severe risks to public health. Unfortunately, both industries have had success.
Nearly 2 decades into the 21st century and asbestos is still legal in the United States. And, thanks to vaping, the number of young people getting addicted to nicotine is back on the rise.
It’s no accident that chemical and tobacco industry lobbyists are so well paid.
This year, be loud about your support for the Great American Smokeout. Don’t let the lobbyists drown out the call for a better, cancer-free world for all.