History of the Great American Smokeout
What is the Great American Smokeout?
Every year, on the third Thursday of November, smokers across the nation take part in the American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout. They may use the date to make a plan to quit, or plan in advance and then quit smoking that day. The event challenges people to stop using tobacco and helps people know about the many tools they can use to quit and stay quit.
In many towns and communities, local volunteers support quitters, publicize this anti-smoking event, and press for laws that control tobacco use and discourage teens from starting.
Research shows that smokers are most successful in kicking the habit when they have support, such as:
- Telephone smoking-cessation hotlines
- Stop-smoking groups
- Online quit groups
- Nicotine replacement products
- Prescription medicine to lessen cravings
- Guide books
- Encouragement and support from friends and family members
Using 2 or more of these measures to help you quit smoking works better than using any one of them alone. For example, some people use a prescription medicine along with nicotine replacement. Other people may use as many as 3 or 4 of the methods listed above.
Telephone stop-smoking hotlines are an easy-to-use resource, and they are available in all 50 states. Call us at 1-800-227-2345 to find telephone counseling or other support in your area.
Support is out there, but the most recent information suggests that fewer than 1 in 3 smokers reports having tried any of the recommended therapies during their last quit attempt.
How the Great American Smokeout began
The Great American Smokeout has helped dramatically change Americans’ attitudes about smoking. These changes have led to community programs and smoke-free laws that are now saving lives in many states. Annual Great American Smokeout events began in the 1970s, when smoking and secondhand smoke were commonplace.
The idea for the Great American Smokeout grew from a 1970 event in Randolph, Massachusetts, at which Arthur P. Mullaney asked people to give up cigarettes for a day and donate the money they would have spent on cigarettes to a high school scholarship fund. Then in 1974, Lynn R. Smith, editor of the Monticello Times in Minnesota, spearheaded the state’s first D-Day, or Don’t Smoke Day.
The idea caught on, and on November 18, 1976, the California Division of the American Cancer Society got nearly 1 million smokers to quit for the day. That California event marked the first Great American Smokeout, and the Society took the program nationwide in 1977. Since then, there have been dramatic changes in the way society views tobacco advertising and tobacco use. Many public places and work areas are now smoke-free – this protects non-smokers and supports smokers who want to quit.
The Great American Smokeout helps fuel new laws and save lives.
Each year, the Great American Smokeout also draws attention to the deaths and chronic diseases caused by smoking. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, many state and local governments responded by banning smoking in workplaces and restaurants, raising taxes on cigarettes, limiting cigarette promotions, discouraging teen cigarette use, and taking further action to counter smoking. These efforts continue today.
Because of the efforts of individuals and groups that have led anti-tobacco efforts, there have been significant landmarks in the areas of research, policy, and the environment:
- In 1977, Berkeley, California, became the first community to limit smoking in restaurants and other public places.
- In 1983, San Francisco passed the first strong workplace smoking restrictions, including bans on smoking in private workplaces.
- In 1990, the federal smoking ban on all interstate buses and domestic flights of 6 hours or less took effect.
- In 1994, Mississippi filed the first of 24 state lawsuits seeking to recuperate millions of dollars from tobacco companies for smoking-related illnesses paid for by Medicaid.
- In 1999, the Department of Justice filed suit against cigarette manufacturers, charging the industry with defrauding the public by lying about the risks of smoking.
- In 1999, the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) was passed, requiring tobacco companies to pay $206 billion to 45 states by the year 2025 to cover Medicaid costs of treating smokers. The MSA agreement also closed the Tobacco Institute and ended cartoon advertising and tobacco billboards.
- In 2009, The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was signed into law. It gives the FDA the authority to regulate the sale, manufacturing, and marketing of tobacco products and protects children from the tobacco industry’s marketing practices.
Those states with strong tobacco control laws are now reaping the fruits of their labor. From 1965 to today, cigarette smoking among adults in the United States decreased from more than 42% to around 20%. Strong smoke-free policies, media campaigns, and increases in the prices of tobacco products are at least partly credited for these decreases.
Still, today about 1 in 5 US adults smoke cigarettes (that’s more than 43 million people). And about 15 million people smoke tobacco in cigars or pipes. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women. About 87% of lung cancer deaths are thought to result from smoking. Smoking also causes cancers of the larynx (voice box), mouth, pharynx (throat), esophagus (swallowing tube), and bladder. It also has been linked to the development of cancers of the pancreas, cervix, ovary (mucinous), colon/rectum, kidney, stomach, and some types of leukemia. Cigars and pipes cause cancers, too.
Smoking is responsible for nearly 1 in 3 cancer deaths, and 1 in 5 deaths from all causes. Another 8.6 million people live with serious illnesses caused by smoking.
Fortunately, the past few decades have seen great strides in changing attitudes about smoking, understanding the addiction, and learning how to help people quit. Today, the American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout is celebrated with rallies, parades, stunts, quitting information, and even “cold turkey” menu items in schools, workplaces, Main Streets, and legislative halls throughout the US.
Visit www.cancer.org to learn more about quitting smoking, improving your health, or getting involved with a Great American Smokeout event in your community. Or just call your American Cancer Society anytime at 1-800-227-2345.
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Smokefree.gov. Frequently Asked Questions about Quitlines. Accessed at www.smokefree.gov/quitlines-faq.aspx on October 4, 2012.
US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. Accessed at www.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2k11Results/NSDUHresults2011.pdf on October 4, 2012.Last Medical Review: 10/09/2012
Last Revised: 1/17/2013