Start Your Journey Toward a Smoke-Free Life Today

November 15, 2018

By Cliff Douglas, JD

Today marks the 43rd annual celebration of the Great American Smokeout. The American Cancer Society marks the occasion by inspiring smokers across the nation to commit to smoke-free lives – not just for a day, but year-round. This year the theme for the Great American Smokeout is “Day 1”. This new theme reflects what we know about what it takes to stop smoking. Like you, we are realists. We know what the experience is like for many people who smoke and try to quit. Quitting is often hard. In fact, cigarette manufacturers have made it even harder to quit by manipulating the nicotine and other chemicals in their products with the deliberate intent to cause addiction. That has been good for their business, but terrible for the nation’s health.

Quitting often takes time and a plan. It benefits from ongoing support. For many smokers, it takes multiple tries to stop smoking for good. Getting support from friends, family, and experts, such as your doctor, is often what one needs to make the life-saving choice to quit. You don’t have to stop smoking in one day, but you need to start somewhere. We encourage you to use the Great American Smokeout as your day - the day you commit to begin your journey toward a smoke-free life.

As someone who has been in the fight against tobacco for 30 years, I have seen just how challenging it can be for smokers to quit. I have helped pass laws making airplanes smoke-free, worked to defend local smoke-free restaurant and workplace laws, and advised government leaders about what more we as a nation can do to put an end to the harms of tobacco use.

These many years fighting to help smokers and end this epidemic have not frustrated me. On the contrary, they have inspired me.

Thanks to increased awareness, research, and other efforts, smoking rates have dropped dramatically in the past several decades. Cigarette smoking rates have fallen from 42% in 1965 to a historic low of 14.0% in 2017, an extraordinary change that has saved more than 8 million lives. The bad news is that 34 million Americans still smoke cigarettes today. Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in our society, responsible for nearly one in five deaths in the United States and nearly 29% of all cancer deaths. There has also been a significant rise in the use of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, among our youth and young adults, fueling great concern about increased nicotine addiction in our young people.

Thus, stepping up our collective efforts to reduce tobacco use and accelerate successful quitting is essential. Some people are able to quit on their own, without the help of others or the use of medicines, but for many, it can be challenging to break not only the physical addiction, but also their social and emotional ties to smoking.

These are my 5 tips to help you make today the day you commit to quitting:

  1. Take it one step at a time. The most important step is the first one — making the decision to quit.
  2. Make use of stop-smoking tools. Today, smokers have more tools than ever to help them become tobacco-free, including FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies and medications and expert counseling services. Studies show that with the aid of medications, as many as 25% of smokers can stay smoke-free for over 6 months. And while counseling and medication are both effective when used separately for treating tobacco dependence, the combination of the two can increase the odds of quitting by 50%.
  3. Don’t give up. Addiction to nicotine in cigarettes is one of the strongest and most deadly addictions one can have. Often, the younger one was when they started to smoke, the more intense the addiction. Smokers often have to make multiple quit attempts, choosing from a selection of scientifically-proven tools before finding the exact option or combination that works best for them.
  4. Remember, it is absolutely worth it. After quitting smoking, your body immediately experiences the benefits. In just 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure drop. In 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood returns to normal. And that’s only the beginning.
  5. Seek Support. The American Cancer Society is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide support, from questions about quitting smoking to looking for national or local resources to help you quit. To find out more, please call 1-800-227-2345 or visit

Join us in celebrating the Great American Smokeout by making your plan to quit smoking TODAY. Remember, you don’t have to stop smoking in one day, but you have to start somewhere. Let the Great American Smokeout be Day 1 – your day to make the commitment to start the journey toward a smoke-free life!

Cliff Douglas is the American Cancer Society Vice President for Tobacco Control and Director of the American Cancer Society’s Center for Tobacco Control.