Every year, on the third Thursday of November, the American Cancer Society promotes the Great American Smokeout (GAS). Forty-two years of encouraging and supporting people to quit, as well as teaching them the benefits of quitting, and we still aren’t there- not even close, actually. One in five adult Americans still smoke and many more smoke cigars, pipes or use smokeless tobacco.
The GAS started from an event in 1971 that asked people to give up cigarettes for a day and donate the money they would have spent to a scholarship fund. The idea caught on and the California ACS held the first ever GAS in 1976. In 1977, it went nationwide. Along with the annual push to quit, the GAS draws attention to the diseases and deaths that smoking causes.
The anti-smoking movement has led to laws regarding tobacco advertising, smoke-free workplaces, laws to protect our children from picking up smoking and to create smoke-free restaurants and bars. Can you believe it was only in 1990 that domestic airline flights went smoke-free?
Yes, we have made progress. Smoking rates were at 42% of U.S. adults in 1965. But in the last decade rates have leveled off at 20%, with little change. Nearly 1 in 3 cancer deaths are attributable to tobacco use and 1 in 5 deaths from all causes. And that doesn’t account for the 8.6 million people living with a serious smoking related illness. And don’t even get me started on the cost of smoking!
So, what can we do? As friends and family, we can support and encourage our loved ones. As healthcare providers, we can continue to ask patients if they smoke and offer them support and resources to quit. Two smoker households: support each other and make this GAS your time to quit!
And probably most important, we all need to talk to our kids. I mean really talk. Talk about why smoking is bad, remind them that they are not invincible, show them pictures of what smoking does to you (pray on that teenage vanity). Ninety five percent of all adult smokers started as teens. About 1000 kids under 18 start smoking every day. Are you a smoker? Show them smoking is no fun – only smoke outside – it sure looks less appealing when the smoker is standing out in the rain. Tell them do as I say, not as I do – talk about how hard it is to quit, how many times you have tried, how you want to and then try again. But however we talk to our kids, one of the most important things is to talk about it again, and again, and again. It only works if you keep the conversation going.
So, get the facts about smoking and the crisis it has caused, find support for you or a loved one to quit or talk to your kids (again). Let’s get that smoking rate and our country’s health moving in the right direction!