Every year since 1976, the third Thursday in November marks the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, a day when smokers are encouraged to put down all tobacco products and formulate a plan to quit tobacco for good. This year the day is observed on Thursday, Nov. 21.
The Great American Smokeout is an opportunity to promote healthy, tobacco-free lives not just for a day but year-round. The theme is “You don’t have to stop smoking in one day. Start with Day 1.”
While anyone can get lung cancer, smoking is by far the leading cause — accounting for 8 out of 10 lung cancer deaths in the United States. In fact, smoking cigarettes kills more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, HIV, guns, and illegal drugs combined. Smoking damages nearly every organ in the body, including the lungs, heart, blood vessels, reproductive organs, mouth, skin, eyes, and bones.
Addiction to nicotine in cigarettes is one of the strongest and most deadly addictions one can have, and quitting tobacco can be a process. While cigarette smoking rates have dropped – from 42 percent in 1965 to 14 percent in 2018 – between 38 and 40 million Americans still smoke cigarettes. Research shows that more than half of smokers want to quit, but only 7.4 percent succeed.
The most important thing smokers can do to improve their health is to quit smoking cigarettes and other forms of combustible tobacco. Quitting is hard. It takes commitment, starts with a plan, and it often takes more than one quit attempt.
Getting help through counseling and/or prescription medications can double or triple the chances of quitting successfully. Support is also important. Smoking cessation programs, telephone quit lines, the American Cancer Society’s Freshstart program, and smoking counselors or coaches can be a great help. In addition, there are many free smartphone and tablet apps available. SmokefreeTXT is a texting service provided by smokefree.gov. Individuals can sign up for text messages at smokefree.gov/smokefreetxt.
The American Cancer Society is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to provide support as people make a plan to quit smoking. For more information, visit cancer.org/smokeout or call 1-800-227-2345.
How do I get through the rough spots after I stop smoking?♦ For the first few days after you quit smoking, spend as much free time as you can in public places where smoking is not allowed. (Libraries, malls, museums, theaters, restaurants without bars, and churches are most often smoke-free.)
♦ Take extra care of yourself. Drink water, eat well, and get enough sleep. This could help you have the energy you might need to handle extra stress.
♦ Don’t drink alcohol, coffee, or any other drinks you link with smoking for at least a couple of months. Try something else instead – maybe different types of water, sports drinks, or 100% fruit juices. Try to choose drinks that are low- or no-calorie.
♦ If you miss the feeling of having a cigarette in your hand, hold something else – a pencil, a paper clip, or a coin, for example.
♦ If you miss the feeling of having something in your mouth, try toothpicks, cinnamon sticks, sugarless gum, sugar-free lollipops, or celery. Some people chew on a straw or stir stick.
♦ Avoid temptation – stay away from activities, people, and places you link with smoking.
♦ Create new habits and a non-smoking environment around you.
♦ Get ready to face future situations or crises that might make you want to smoke again, and think of all the important reasons you’ve decided to quit. To remind yourself of these reasons, put a picture of the people who are the most important to you somewhere you see it every day, or keep one handy on your phone.
♦ Take deep breaths to relax. Picture your lungs filling with fresh, clean air.
♦ Remember your goal and the fact that the urge to smoke will lessen over time.
♦ Think about how awesome it is that you’re quitting smoking and getting healthy. If you start to weaken, remember your goal. Remember that quitting is a learning process. Be patient with yourself.
♦ Brush your teeth and enjoy that fresh taste.
♦ Exercise in short bursts (try alternately tensing and relaxing muscles, push-ups, lunges, walking up the stairs, or touching your toes).
♦ Call a friend, family member, or a telephone stop-smoking help-line when you need extra help or support.
♦ Eat 4 to 6 small meals during the day instead of 1 or 2 large ones. This keeps your blood sugar levels steady, your energy balanced, and helps prevent the urge to smoke. Avoid sugary or spicy foods that could trigger a desire to smoke.
♦ Above all, reward yourself for doing your best. Give yourself rewards often if that’s what it takes to keep going. Plan to do something fun.