The Great American Smokeout

Every year, the third Thursday in November marks the Great American Smokeout, a nationwide opportunity for those interested in quitting smoking to find the support they need.  The event, inspired by anti-smoking events in the early 1970s, makes for a handy start date for anybody who has been thinking about quitting but hasn’t yet gotten around to it yet.  The event has its roots in a fundraising drive in Randolph, MA, in 1970, when citizens of the town were asked to stop smoking for 1 day and donate the money they would have spent on cigarettes to a high school scholarship fund.

Michael Weilert MD Great American SmokeoutBack in 1974, the Monticello Times in Minnesota launched the first “Don’t Smoke Day” (or “D-Day”) in the state, which led to the California Division of the American Cancer Society holding the first official Great American Smokeout two years later.  According to the American Cancer Society, this first event caused nearly 1 million smokers to quit for the day.  The next year, the organization made the Great American Smokeout a national event.  It encourages smokers to make a plan to permanently quit or at least quit smoking for that day.  It also attempts to raise awareness on the role that smoking plays in death and chronic disease.  The event is then disseminated through volunteers in local towns and communities who organize rallies and various other events in the name of the Great American Smokeout and provide information on how to quit smoking.  Many cafeteria menus in schools, workplaces and administrative buildings across the country also offer “cold turkey” options as a nod to the day.

A lot has changed since the first Smokeouts were occurring in the 1970s; most public places and work areas in the US are currently smoke-free, and now the numbers of smokers in the country have gone down dramatically.  Nonetheless, about 1 in 5 Americans (42 million) still smoke cigarettes, 13.4 million smoke cigars and 2.3 million smoke pipes.  This is still down significantly from when the campaign began; a staggering 42% of Americans smoked back in 1965, and the numbers have since gone down to 18%.

While offering up various tips on how to quit smoking, the American Cancer Society urges those quitting to “dump the memories”.  This means clearing the places where you typically smoke of anything that reminds you of cigarettes, such as lighters, ashtrays or matches.  They also say that those quitting should make an effort to avoid places where smokers congregate, ask other smokers to not smoke around them and clean their house and car thoroughly to get rid of the smell of cigarettes.  Staying busy with various activities has proven effective to help people quit smoking as well.