The Great American Smokeout has been held on the third Thursday in November every year since 1977. The event was started by the American Cancer Society with the hope that giving up smoking for just one day might help smokers to quit and stay quit. Despite the overwhelming volume of scientific evidence showing the adverse effects of smoking, quitting smoking is still a very difficult thing to do.
Most smokers want to quit smoking. In fact, 70% of smokers report they would like to quit smoking completely and 43% of smokers have attempted to quit smoking for more than a day in the past year. Smokers are generally aware of the dangers of smoking and the health benefits associated with quitting smoking. According to the American Cancer Society tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States.
The idea of quitting seems daunting to most people who smoke. While the health benefits of quitting are a motivating factor, the idea of being irritable and quick tempered in the coming days and weeks is not as appealing. There is an entire lifestyle of smoking that is hard to change. Without smoking, what is there to make you go outside or take a 5-10 min break to just stop and reflect? It gives you something to do with your hands or while you're waiting outside for someone. While these so called niceties of smoking pale in comparison to significantly reducing your risk of lung cancer, stroke, or heart attack, they can be enough of a deterrent to dissuade some smokers from even attempting to quit.
Most smoker's do not quit on their first attempt. That's why the idea behind the Great American Smokeout is so grand. By only asking smokers to give up smoking for one day, smokers do not feel the amount of fear and anxiety they would feel about giving up smoking for life. Even quitting for one day is not easy, but as anyone who has spent a holiday with their in-laws knows, a person can put up with a lot for just one day. It gives smokers the chance to try out quitting and to practice different coping mechanisms to deal with cravings. Cravings generally only last 2-3 minutes before the feeling passes. Nicotine addiction only takes three days before symptoms of withdrawal subside. After that, all cravings are linked to habitual smoking and not Nicotine addiction. The experience of giving up cigarettes for one day can have a tremendous effect on smokers ability to make a more serious attempt at quitting for good in the future. And for those who want to use the Great American Smokeout as their official quit day, the following Monday is now known as Stay Quit Monday.
The attitude towards smoking in this country has changed dramatically over the last fifty years. In 1964, the Surgeon General released his first report on Smoking and Health. At that time, 42% of American adults smoked tobacco. Today, less than 17% of adults still smoke. Smoking in bars and restaurants and workplaces used to be commonplace, but by the mid-eighties, the dangers of second hand smoke became well known, and by the early 2000's smoking in these places was banned in most states. The dangers of smoking and exposure to second hand smoke are well documented, but the health risks cannot be overstated. Smoking is the leading cause of Lung Cancer and COPD in the US. It is also a leading cause of stroke and heart disease and is linked to most forms of cancer. Smoking is a contributing factor to 7 out of the top 10 causes of death in the US including all of the top 3 causes and 4 of the top 5.
So if you smoke and are ready to quit, or even if you're not but you know you should, give up smoking with millions of other smokers on the Thursday before Thanksgiving this year. If you are a smoker, quitting smoking is the number one way to improve your health and reduce risk of disease and early death. If you need extra help to quit smoking, our Behavioral Health Consultants at Latham Medical Group of Community Care Physicians can help.