GREAT AMERICAN SMOKEOUT

Thursday, November 19th, marks the 45th Great American Smokeout, a day set aside for smokers and other tobacco users to abstain for at least one day, in hopes that people will quit completely.  The idea began in 1971 when Arthur Mullaney, a Massachusetts resident, asked people to quit smoking for a day and donate the money they would have spent on tobacco to a local school.  Shortly after Monticello Times editor Lynn Smith led Minnesota’s first “D-Day” (Don’t Smoke Day), the American Cancer Society’s California chapter encouraged nearly one million smokers to quit for the day on November 18, 1976.  Due to the success in California, the ACS took the event nationwide in 1977, maintaining the third Thursday in November as the target date.

So why in 2020, during a pandemic, do we continue to focus on issues like smoking and vaping?  The Great American Smokeout (GASO) draws attention to preventing the deaths and chronic illnesses caused by smoking and vaping. It also still serves as a motivator for individuals to quit smoking (even for a day). An important side benefit of this day is that it has also served to help motivate individuals, organizations, State and Federal governments to begin to explore and enact legislation and policies on tobacco product advertising, marketing to children and tobacco-free environments. 

Many states have now enacted strong tobacco control laws that have helped drive positive change. Cigarette smoking has declined over the past fifty years, from 42% in 1965 to 13.7% in 2019, but the declines have not benefitted our population equally. Some groups smoke more heavily or at higher rates and suffer more from smoking-related diseases.  These populations tend to be those who experience inequities in multiple areas of their lives, including those at lower socioeconomic levels, those without college degrees, American Indians/Alaska Natives, African American/Black communities, LGBTQ communities, those in the military, those with behavioral health conditions, and others.  Some of these inequities can be found right in Allegany County by looking at smoking and vaping rates of high school seniors. In New York State, 4.8% of high school students smoke cigarettes compared to 10.8% of high school students in Allegany County. Vaping rates are even more alarming: in New York State, 36.7% of high school seniors vaped, in Allegany County 38.5% of high school seniors vaped. The Allegany County percentages come from the Allegany Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Inc.’s Risk and Protective Survey that is completed every two years by sixth, eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades throughout the county. When discussing adults, Allegany County ranks as one of the highest counties in New York as having high averages of death caused by lung cancer and heart disease, to which smoking is a large contributor.

32.4 million American adults still smoke cigarettes, and smoking is still the largest preventable cause of death and illness in our country and around the world. More than 480,000 deaths in the US are caused by smoking every year.   This is 20% of all deaths – every year.  To add to that misery, more than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease. 

Research shows that smokers are most successful in “kicking the habit” when they have some means of support, such as nicotine replacement products, counseling, prescription medicines to lessen cravings, guide books, and the encouragement of friends and family members.

“Chew on This: The Need to Engage Your Mouth and Hands After Quitting,” article by the Quitter’s Circle Staff on 3/10/15 cites that a common theme among ex-smokers and those trying to quit, can be fidgety hands and the need to chew gum, toothpicks, or other foods.  Some quitters miss the sensation of a cigarette in their hands or between their teeth.  Testimonials often reveal that smokers become used to having a cigarette in their mouths.  The habit of picking up a cigarette and placing it between one’s lips becomes a routine of comfort.  In addition, the habit of moving one’s hand from cigarette to mouth is repeated so often that quitters and those attempting to quit feel the need to do something with their hands.  This article is one of many that contains this kind of information.  

In light of this, it would stand to reason that e-cigarettes are not an effective cessation tool for most people, as the hand-to-mouth habit of using an e-cigarette reinforces the behavior that potential quitters are aiming to break.  The use of an e-cigarette, which replicates the experience of smoking, may be a drawback to quitting.  Harvey B. Simon, MD, editor of “Harvard Health,” stated in an article dated 9/22/11 that, “By simulating the cigarette experience, e-cigarettes may reactivate the habit in ex-smokers.”

Communities, landlords, and employers can also help smokers become successes in quitting. Communities can make public places tobacco free, such as parks. This can have three desired effects: one, it encourages current smokers to quit; two, it models appropriate behavior to young people so they never start using tobacco products; three, it protects our environment from tobacco litter. Studies have shown that one cigarette butt can litter 500 liters of water, which exceeds 132 gallons. Landlords can make their apartment buildings smoke free, which encourages smokers to quit and protects residents from secondhand and thirdhand smoke, which is dangerous to humans and animals. The last policy change can be implemented by employers to make their workplace and even their vehicles tobacco free, which encourages tobacco users to quit. It is estimated that smoking causes over seven billion dollars in productivity losses each year in New York State alone. All three of these policies have been proven to be an effective way to encourage current tobacco users to quit and discourage young people from starting. 

More information on these policies can be found at tobaccofreenys.org, or through Tobacco Free Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany by emailing Community Engagement Coordinator Ken Dahlgren at kenneth.dahlgren@roswellpark.org.

According to the ACS, 1 in 5 deaths in the United States is smoking related, and 87% of lung cancer deaths are attributed to smoking.  Lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer death, is also the most preventable.  If you would like to “kick the habit”, but you are not sure what steps to take, call the Allegany Council at 585-593-1920, x 713, for tips on how to quit and stay quit.  Assistance is also available for users of smokeless tobacco.

Don’t allow yourself to become a replacement smoker or a statistic…join millions of Americans today on a journey to a healthier you!

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