For the past 32 years, the Great American Smokeout has made being a quitter something to celebrate. The event challenges tobacco users to quit for at least one day with the hope that single day will be the catalyst to quit completely.
In the past it has been celebrated with rallies and parades, and has been chaired by celebrities like Sammy Davis Jr., Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, and Mr. Potato Head.
This year, the Great American Smokeout is slated for Thursday, November 19. The day not only serves as a target date for many people’s smoking cessation efforts, but also to help raise awareness about the dangers of smoking and the many ways available to quit smoking for good.
The original idea for the Great American Smokeout sprung from a Massachusetts man in 1971. Arthur Mullaney, a former guidance counselor at Randolph High School in Randolph, MA, asked townspeople to give up smoking for a day and to donate the money they would have spent on tobacco to the local high school scholarship fund.
“Kids used to come into my office after school, and one day we were talking about college. I said, ‘you know, if I could have a nickel for every cigarette butt I see outside we'd have enough money to send all of you to college,’” Mullaney told ACS News Today in a 2001 interview. According to Mullaney, that was the first time an entire town quit smoking.
A few years later, Lynn Smith, editor of the Monticello Times, led the charge to create Minnesota's first D-Day (Don't Smoke Day). The idea gained momentum and on November 18, 1976, the California chapter of the American Cancer Society encouraged nearly one million smokers to quit for the day. With the success in California, the ACS took the event nationwide in 1977.
The take home message here is that smoking is the most preventable cause of death in our society, according the American Cancer Society. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women, and this year there will be about 169,500 new cases diagnosed in the US. More than 80% of lung cancers are thought to result from smoking. It is also a factor for heart disease, the number one killer of Americans.