All About The Great American Smokeout

Cigarette butt crushed in an ashtray


Statistics tell us that approximately 7 out of 10 smokers want to quit yet go on lighting up, day in and day out, unable to stop the vicious smoking cycle they're stuck in. Such is the nature of nicotine addiction.

As discouraging as that sounds, the good news is that there are approximately 46 million former smokers in the United States today, giving us proof positive that smoking cessation is an achievable goal.

Back in the Day...

When I was a young smoker back in the mid-70s, attitudes here in the U.S. about tobacco were a lot different than they are today. A person could light up just about anywhere, and while we all knew that cigarette smoking was hazardous to our health, we were in the dark ages about just how dangerous it really was.

Today, in part due to anti-smoking initiatives like the Great American Smokeout (GASO), we are much more aware of the dangers cigarette smoke poses to our health.

As a result of anti-smoking initiatives, we're more proactive about avoiding tobacco, whether we're smokers trying to quit, or nonsmokers choosing to stay away from secondhand smoke.

How The Great American Smokeout Began

In 1971, Arthur P. Mullaney, a guidance counselor at Randolph High School in Randolph, Massachusetts organized an event that set the wheels in motion for the Great American Smokeout as we know it today.

In an interview with the American Cancer Society (ACS) News Today, Mr. Mullaney said: "Kids used to come into my office after school, and one day we were talking about college. I said, 'you know, if I could have a nickel for every cigarette butt I see outside we'd have enough money to send all of you to college.'"

He went on to say that if the smokers in the town of Randolph stopped smoking for a day and donated the money they would have spent on cigarettes, they'd have the makings for a college scholarship fund for students. Before long, the plan for the first Smokeout was underway with the tag line 'Light up a Student's Future, Not a Cigarette'.

That first event, which took place in February of 1972, brought in $4500 and got enthusiastic support from the town of Randolph. The second annual Smokeout event raised $5000, and by the time year three rolled around, the ACS had come on board with marketing help, bringing in well-known sports figures from the Boston Celtics and the New England Patriots.

Just a few years later in another part of the country, Lynn R. Smith, an editor of the Monticello Times in Minnesota launched an initiative called D-Day, which stood for Don't Smoke Day.

The idea of a smoke-free day, the roots of which had likely been planted by Arthur Mullaney in Randolph, finally took off like wildfire, and in 1976, the California Division of the ACS succeeded in getting nearly one million of its smoking residents to put the butts down for one day—quite a feat. The Great American Smokeout had been born.

The Great American Smokeout Today

Every year since that first GASO event in 1976, the third Thursday in November has been reserved for the Great American Smokeout, hosted by the ACS. Americans are challenged to quit smoking for this one day, and from there, the hope is that they will permanently kick smoking out of their lives. Many thousands of people have done just that, using the Great American Smokeout as the start of a healthy, smoke-free lifestyle.

Facts About Tobacco-Related Cancers

  • Smoking is linked to 30 percent of all cancer deaths and upwards of 87 percent of lung cancer deaths in the U.S. today.
  • Cigar smoking carries hazards for the user that are similar to cigarette smoking. Cancers associated with cigar smoking include lung, oral, larynx, esophagus and possibly pancreatic cancer as well.
  • Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of cancer of the cheek and gums by nearly 50 percent for users. Smokeless tobacco is not a safe smoking alternative.
  • Smoking is associated with numerous types of cancer, including: nasopharynx (back of nose and throat) cancer, cancer of the nasal cavity, lip, oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, pancreatic cancer, uterine and cervical cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, stomach cancer, and acute leukemia

A Few Other Key Facts About Tobacco Use:

  • Approximately 45 million U.S. adults (20.8 percent of the population) smoke and about 23 percent of U.S. high school students smoke.
  • Life expectancy for long-term smokers is approximately 14 years shorter than for nonsmokers.
  • Upwards of two million tobacco-related deaths occurred in the United States in the 5 years between 1997 and 2001.

Given enough time, tobacco kills half of those who continue to use it. But long before that happens, it ruins our quality of life in the most horrific of ways.

There's No Time Like The Present...

If you're thinking about quitting, why not team up with the thousands of other smokers who are planning to use the Great American Smokeout this year as the day they make smoking history—their history.

In the meantime, start your preparations by gathering some supplies to help you manage nicotine withdrawal and reading up on what you can expect after you quit smoking. The links below will help you get started.

A Word About Support

Statistics show that people who quit smoking with a healthy support system in place have a much higher rate of long-term success with smoking cessation. Set yourself up for success by surrounding yourself with like-minded people who know exactly what you are going through. It makes a huge difference!

Don't fear smoking cessation—quitting tobacco is a gift beyond compare and one that only you can give yourself.

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