Great American Smoke Out marks 26th year
SIKESTON - He'll never escort his only child down the aisle on her wedding day or cradle his first grandchild in his arms. He'll miss priceless moments, family celebrations and joys of all sizes.
All because he wouldn't put down the cigarette.
Today marks the American Cancer Society's 26th annual Great American Smoke Out, a nationally recognized platform to educate the public on the dangers associated with tobacco use.
The goal is to encourage smokers to quit for a lifetime by starting with just one day.
It's a day of celebration for those who choose to use it as a stopping point. For those who've lost a loved one to a tobacco-related disease, it has bittersweet meaning, serving as a reminder of the choice their loved one made.
"It's heartbreaking when you see a wife or an adult child come in, desperately seeking all the information they can get their hands on after finding out their mom or husband has just been diagnosed with lung cancer," said Robin Stoner, health initiative specialist for the American Cancer Society. "We also work with the patient him or herself and that is so painful to us when we know the illness probably could have been prevented.
"The grief and suffering could have been avoided if the person would've just stopped smoking and my heart just aches for the family who's going to be left behind."
The Great American Smoke Out grew out of a 1971 event in Massachusetts when Arthur 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.
Three years later Lynn Smith, editor of the Monticello Times in Minnesota, started the state's first Don't Smoke Day. The idea caught on and on Nov. 18, 1976, the California Division of the American Cancer Society succeeded in getting nearly one million smokers to quit for the day. The California event marked the first Great American Smoke Out and went nationwide in 1977.
Rita Kelly won't say there's anything easy about quitting. In fact, she once quit for five and a half years and started again.
But this time she has the perfect reason for giving up cigarettes for good and it's in the form of two boys.
"My last cigarette was Jan. 5, 2000. I don't say I quit, I say I haven't had a cigarette," she quipped. "I was going in to have surgery and decided this was it, I wasn't smoking anymore. I really wanted to stop for my kids, so I'd not only be there for them, but so I could set an example for them. It's tough to explain to your kids why they shouldn't smoke when you're doing it."
Even though people are aware of the dangers of tobacco use, lung cancer remains the number one killer among men and women. This year alone, approximately 169,400 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. and an estimated 154,000 people will die from the disease.
The 1999 National Health Institute Survey estimated that 36.5 million adults were current cigarette smokers either daily or on some days. Among adults age 18 and older, national data showed 6 percent of men and 1 percent of women were current users of chewing tobacco or snuff.
Secondhand smoke is dangerous, too. It may be responsible for 3,000 lung cancer deaths in nonsmoking adults and an additional 35,000 to 40,000 cases of heart disease in nonsmokers, according to the American Cancer Society.
Stoner pointed out that contrary to what many believe, cigars contain many of the same carcinogens that are found in cigarettes. She pointed out that cigar smoking, which has steadily increased since 1993, causes cancer of the lung, oral cavity, larynx, esophagus and possibly the pancreas. Oral cancer occurs several times more frequently among snuff dippers compared with nontobacco users.
"There's just so much more to smoking and using other types of tobacco than what people realize," Stoner said. "They're addicted and they don't feel like they can quit. Sometimes they worry about gaining weight if they quit. But smoking is so dangerous and there are so many things that can happen as a result. If you've ever seen someone who is undergoing chemo for lung cancer or if you've watched someone losing the battle you realize it's very real. People often think it can't happen to them but it can and it does."
Kelly says the cravings haven't gone away, comparing smoking to alcoholism. She knows if she takes just one puff she'll not be able to stop. And she's seen what smoking does. Her dad has emphysema and three of her uncles died of lung cancer.
"And I do feel better since I've quit," she said. "When you get to thinking about it, what does it really do for you? Nothing. I used to think it calmed my nerves but it didn't. I was just addicted to it, that's all it was. Plus I've saved a lot of money not smoking. I was paying over $25 a carton and it wouldn't even last a week and a half."
If you won't quit for yourself, do it for your family, urged Stoner. "Try looking into the eyes of your children or grandchildren and telling them you're sorry you won't be there to watch them grow up, but it's not important enough to make you quit smoking."
Tips to help you quit
1. Consider using medication. There are prescription and over-the-counter medications that can help you deal with withdrawal symptoms or even help to reduce the urge to smoke.
2. Enlist support. Many states, communities and health care organizations have free or low-cost counseling available to help you quit. Call the American Cancer Society to find out what is available in your area.
3. Get help or ask for help from a health care provider.
4. Don't keep your intention to quit a secret. Include friends and family in your quitting process, they can offer much needed support.
5. Clear the places where you usually smoke of anything that reminds you of cigarettes, such as lighters, ashtrays or matches. Also ask other smokers not to smoke around you, and clean the house and car thoroughly to remove the cigarette smell.
6. Avoid places where smokers gather. Go to the movies, museums or other places where smoking is not allowed.
7. Calm the nervous energy you may feel with physical and mental activities. Take long strolls and deep breaths of fresh air, and find things to keep your hands busy, like crossword puzzles or gardening.
8. When the urge to smoke strikes, do something else. Call a supportive friend. Do brief exercises such as pushups, walking up a flight of stairs or touching your toes. Keep oral substances like carrots, apples, raisins or gum handy. And never allow yourself to think that "one won't hurt," because it will.
9. For more suggestions contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345.