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 quit for the day and make a plan to quit for good.
Thanks to increased awareness, research and other efforts, smoking rates have dropped in the past several decades, from about 42 percent of adults in 1965 to about 18 percent in 2012, the latest year for which numbers are available. Still, about 42 million adults smoke cigarettes and tobacco remains a major killer, responsible for nearly one in five deaths in the United States and at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths.
The first Great American Smokeout occurred Nov. 18, 1976, when the California Division of the American Cancer Society got nearly 1 million smokers to quit for the day. The cancer society took the program nationwide in 1977. Supporters say the event has helped dramatically change Americans’ attitudes about smoking, helping bring about community programs and smoke-free laws that are saving lives in many states. Many public places and work areas are now smoke-free, protecting non-smokers and helping encourage smokers who want to quit.
Today, smokers have more tools than ever to help quit smoking, but it remains one of the strongest addictions. Smokers often have to make several quit attempts, using any of several tools, some proven, some not, before they find the method that works for them.
Among those tools smokers can consider:
• Nicotine replacement therapy
• Telephone and online-based support and counseling
• Quit smoking programs and support groups
• Prescription drugs
Studies show 70 percent of smokers want to quit. Below is a timeline of the benefits of quitting:
• 20 minutes: Heart rate and blood pressure drop.
• 12 hours: Blood’s carbon monoxide level drops to normal.
• 2 weeks to 3 months: circulation improves and lung function increases.
• 1 to 9 months: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease; cilia start to regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to clean the lungs and reduce infection.
• 1 year: The excess risk of coronary heart disease is reduced by half
• 5 years: Risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder are cut in half. Stroke risk can fall to that of a non-smoker after 2-5 years.
• 10 years: The risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking. The risk of cancer of the larynx (voice box) and pancreas decreases.
• 15 years: The risk of coronary heart disease is that of a non-smoker’s.