The Great American Smokeout - sometimes abbreviated as GASO - happens every year on the third Thursday of November
It’s a day when the American Cancer Association encourages people who smoke to quit for one day in the hopes that they’ll continue for good. But does it actually work? Should you give it a try? Here’s the information you need to help you decide whether the Great American Smokeout is a good time to try to quit smoking.
A brief history of the Great American Smokeout
Who came up with the idea for the Great American Smokeout?
In 1970, a man named Arthur Mullaney was organizing a high school scholarship fundraiser. He asked people to give up smoking for one day and donate the money they saved to his fund. The idea caught on. The California chapter of the American Cancer Association adopted the concept in 1976, and Great American Smokeout went national in 1977.
Has the Great American Smokeout done any good since its inception?
Absolutely. It has helped raise awareness about the dangers of smoking and contributed to the cultural change we see all around us. In fact, before the Great American Smokeout, most restaurants, bars, workplaces, and airplanes permitted smoking. Now, most states ban smoking in public areas and rates of smoking have dropped – from 42% to 14% of the U.S. population between 1965 and 2019. The result? A staggering 30% drop in cancer deaths between 1991 and 2017.
Why the Great American Smokeout still matters
We still need a day devoted to smoking cessation - here’s why
Smoking’s impact on population health
Tobacco use, specifically cigarette smoking, is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the United States, killing nearly 500,000 people a year. That’s one of every five deaths. According to the American Cancer Association, cigarette smoking is responsible for 29% of all cancer deaths in the nation. The biggest culprit? Lung cancer. But other smoking-related cancers are equally as deadly, including cancer of the larynx, mouth, sinuses, throat, esophagus, bladder, pancreas, cervix, ovary, colon, rectum, kidney, stomach, and certain types of leukemia.
Besides cancer, smoking causes plenty of other health problems like heart disease, stroke, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. The average lifespan of people who smoke is ten years less than that of those who have never smoked.
The financial impact on people who smoke
Those who smoke spend up to $2,500 a year on a pack-a-day habit. One study found that people who have previously smoked and have now quit actually save over $22,400 in health-related expenses over their lifetime. Another study showed that people who smoke cost their employers about $4,430 a year in lost productivity and absenteeism.
Why does the Great American Smokeout suggest going “cold turkey?”
Good question. We can guess that it has something to do with Thanksgiving falling on the fourth Thursday of November, just a week later. Perhaps it’s a play on words having to do with eating leftovers.
All jokes aside, the American Cancer Association no longer focuses on the need to quit smoking in a single day. Addiction research has made incredible advances over the past 50 years. We now know that reducing or quitting any addictive substance is typically a long process, not a one-time decision only requiring willpower. Most people who claim to have stopped all at once had usually tried many times in the past before they achieved their goal.
What works better than “cold turkey?”
Real, tangible behavioral change
True change isn’t about meeting someone else’s expectations or drawing a line in the sand. Instead, almost all behavioral change, including quitting smoking, is best seen as a journey – one that involves planning, skill-building, and, most importantly, finding your own reasons to quit.
In fact, all of those previous “failed” attempts to quit can be seen as essential parts of the journey. They can help you understand your motivation for smoking in the first place. There are probably powerful patterns that make smoking a part of your life. Perhaps all of your friends and family members smoke. Or you look forward to the relief of smoking breaks at work. A skilled coach can help you identify these patterns, and find ways to replace them with healthier choices.
A good smoking cessation plan will include a combination of techniques, such as monitoring your tobacco usage, using a breath sensor, weaning off nicotine slowly (possibly with nicotine replacement therapy that fits your specific needs and goals), and peer-based community support. An app can be very effective because it keeps all of your addiction-fighting tools at your fingertips and in the palm of your hand.
So - is participating in the Great American Smokeout a good idea?
Deciding to quit is a wonderful idea any day of the year! And participating in a national movement can certainly make you feel like you’re part of something bigger, giving you important encouragement often needed to take that first step. You’ll know that you’re not alone because thousands of other Americans are with you in spirit.
However, instead of tossing out all your cigarettes this Great American Smokeout, you might want to use the day to start cutting back a bit or making another behavioral change that feels realistic. You might skip the mid-morning or mid-afternoon smoke, or limit yourself to a certain number of cigarettes for the day.
You could also use this year’s Great American Smokeout to examine your attitudes toward smoking. Write down why you want to quit (or not). Give careful thought to the benefits you feel smoking gives you, as well as the benefits you hope to experience from quitting. Is it important to be there to watch your children and grandchildren grow up? Could you use all that money you spend on cigarettes for a new hobby or a vacation? Get creative and have fun daydreaming about all the possibilities. Then do a comparison. Are cigarettes really the best way to attain the lifestyle you want?
The bottom line
The Great American Smokeout is a terrific day to take that first step on your path to a smoke-free life. Hop on the virtual bandwagon with other Americans and take advantage of the shared group momentum and all of the educational resources available to you. About 3 million Americans successfully quit smoking every year – and you can too!