History of the Great American Smokeout Event
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 they may plan in advance and quit smoking that day. The Great American Smokeout event challenges people to stop using tobacco and helps people learn about the many tools they can use to help them quit and stay quit.
In many communities, local volunteers use this event to publicize the need to quit, and press for laws that control tobacco use and discourage teens from starting, and support people who want to quit.
It's hard to quit tobacco.
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 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.
Call us at 1-800-227-2345 to get more information on quitting tobacco and to find telephone coaching or other support in your area.
How the Great American Smokeout began
The Great American Smokeout event has helped dramatically change Americans’ attitudes about smoking. These changes have led to community programs and smoke-free laws that are now saving lives across the country. Annual Great American Smokeout events began in the 1970s, when smoking and secondhand smoke were common.
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 Smokeout, and the Society took it nationwide in 1977. Since then, there have been dramatic changes in the way the public 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 event helps fuel new laws and save lives.
Each year, the Great American Smokeout event draws attention to preventing 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 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.
- In 2012, the FDA published a list of harmful and potentially harmful constituents (HPHCs) in tobacco products and tobacco smoke. The list helps people better understand the amount of toxic, addictive, and cancer-causing substances in every puff of smoke.
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 42% to about 17%. 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. Excluding secondhand smoke, smoking is estimated to cause 32% of all cancer deaths in the US, including 83% of lung cancer deaths in men and 76% of lung cancer deaths in women.
Fortunately, the past few decades have seen great strides in changing attitudes about smoking, understanding nicotine addiction, and learning how to help people quit. Today, the American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout event 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.
Contact us to learn more about quitting smoking, improving your health, or getting involved with a Great American Smokeout event in your community. Call your American Cancer Society anytime at 1-800-227-2345.
American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2016. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society; 2016.
Pike KJ, Rabius V, McAlister A, Geiger A. American Cancer Society’s QuitLink: randomized trial of Internet assistance. Nicotine Tob Res. 2007;9(3):415-420.
Rouse, K. Personal Communication, October 20, 2004.
Last Medical Review: September 26, 2016 Last Revised: September 26, 2016