It’s not easy to quit smoking cigarettes, but the culture has never been more supportive of those who are willing to try. This year, thousands of smokers across the country will mark November 21st as the day that they plan to quit smoking. And many of them will succeed.
For more than 40 years, the American Cancer Society (ACS) has sponsored the Great American Smokeout on the third Thursday in November. The annual event aims to challenge smokers to stop smoking, or to use the date as an opportunity to joins thousands of others in making a plan to quit.
The event encourages individuals as well as communities, families, businesses, and healthcare providers to support those who would like to stop smoking but may otherwise lack the necessary motivation. Participants will be asked to cease smoking for the entire day and, ideally, to develop a plan to avoid smoking again in the future.
American Cancer Society Smoking Statistics
According to the ACS, there are more than 34 million active smokers in the U.S. alone. That number has fallen greatly over the last half-century, but it still represents 14% of the entire country.
Cigarette smoking remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the world. In the United States alone, more than 16 million Americans suffer from some kind of smoking-related illness. The ACS estimates nearly half a million people worldwide are killed by cigarettes every year.
The Rise of E-Cigarettes
This year’s event comes amid fresh challenges to the anti-smoking movement. The meteoric rise in e-cigarette use — or “vaping” — has complicated efforts to lower rates of nicotine consumption.
When including e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products, the number of active nicotine users in the U.S. surges to nearly 20% of the entire population — or 1 in every 5 people. While the ACS remains committed, first and foremost, to combating cigarette smoking, vaping still seems to challenge this goal.
It’s evident in the enormous — and rising — popularity of e-cigarettes among teenagers and young adults.
Last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study finding smoking rates reached a record low in 2017. But, at the same time, e-cigarette use among teens was shown to have skyrocketed. Earlier this year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found a 78% increase in e-cigarette use among high schoolers between 2017 and 2018.
In an interview with CNBC, CDC Deputy Director Brian King put to rest the notion that e-cigarettes were helping to reduce rates of traditional cigarette smoking:
“If e-cigarette use was responsible [for declines in cigarette use], you would expect to see a perfect correlation, but that’s not what we’re seeing… If anything, e-cigarettes have complicated the tobacco product landscape.”
The incredible surge in vaping, particularly among teens and young adults, underscores the importance of events like the Great American Smokeout, even if vaping is not officially a part of the campaign.
This year’s event comes amid the backdrop of a mysterious vaping-related illness that has killed 40 people across the country and afflicted more than 1,600. The vast majority of those patients are reported to have been using products containing THC — the active ingredient in marijuana.
While the precise origin of the disease is not yet known, some experts have speculated that various cutting agents and “do-it-yourself” tinkering may be to blame — both habits encouraged by the still mostly illegal market that supplies THC products.
Vaping illnesses aside, nicotine is no less addictive when inhaled electronically, and regulators appear to understand that. The FDA recently moved to ban flavored vaping products in an attempt to curb use among kids and teenagers.
That so many young adults have been “hooked” on vaping products, flavored or otherwise, seems to have set back anti-smoking advocates, who, until recently, believed great strides had been made in the fight against tobacco.
While e-cigarette users are encouraged to take this year’s Great American Smokeout as an opportunity to quit, vaping is not yet officially a part of the ACS’s campaign. As of 2019, the Smokeout is meant to encourage adults to stop smoking conventional cigarettes, and for young adults to never start.