Great American Smokeout - American Cancer Society
March 16, 2016
Great American Smokeout - November 17, 2011
In the Beginning
The idea for the Great American Smokeout grew out of a 1974 event when Lynn R. Smith, editor of the Monticello Times in Minnesota, spearheaded the state's first D-Day, or Don't Smoke Day. Previously, in 1971, Arthur P. Mullaney of Randolph, Massachusetts, had 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. The idea caught on, and on November 18, 1976, the California Division of the American Cancer Society succeeded in getting nearly one million smokers to quit for the day. That California event marked the first Great American Smokeout, which went nationwide in 1977.
Some of America's most popular celebrities joined the cause as event chairs, including Sammy Davis, Jr., Edward Asner, Natalie Cole, Larry Hagman, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, Christy Turlington, and "spokespud" Mr. Potato Head, who gave up his pipe for the cause.
The Smokeout has been celebrated with rallies, parades, the distribution of quitting information, and even "cold turkey" menu items in schools, workplaces, military installations, and legislative halls throughout the US.
The Great American Smokeout Today
Now that many more Americans understand the dangers associated with tobacco use, cigarette smoking among adults aged 18 and older has declined by nearly half between 1965 and 2005 - from 42% to 21%. An estimated 45 million adults are now former smokers, and per-capita cigarette consumption is currently lower than at any point since the start of World War II. Nonetheless, roughly 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 5 teenagers in the U.S. are current smokers, and lung cancer remains the number one cancer killer among men and women. This year alone, approximately 213,380 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed in the US, and an estimated 160,390 people will die from the disease. Smoking is also associated with increased risk for cancers of the mouth, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, kidney, bladder, pancreas, and cervix and has more recently been associated with colorectal cancer, myeloid leukemia, as well as cancers of the liver, stomach, and nasal sinuses. Smoking is also a major cause of heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema.
Statistics illustrate what battles still must be fought, but we have won many important victories. In 1977, Berkeley, California, became the first community to limit smoking in restaurants and other public places. A federal smoking ban on all interstate buses and domestic flights of six hours or less was passed in 1990. And in 1999, the Department of Justice filed suit against cigarette manufacturers, charging the industry with defrauding the public by lying about the risks of smoking.
Also in 1999, the landmark Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) was passed, requiring tobacco companies to pay $206 billion to 45 states by the year 2025 to cover Medicaid costs for treating smokers. The MSA also closed the Tobacco Institute and ended cartoon advertising and tobacco billboards. In 2001, the Philip Morris Companies officially apologized for a study commissioned by an international affiliate that concluded the Czech Republic benefited financially from the premature deaths of smokers.
The Future of the Great American Smokeout
Although there has been great progress, there is much more to accomplish to significantly reduce tobacco-related cancer diagnoses and deaths. Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in our society, yet there have been 12 million premature deaths attributable to smoking in the United States. Importantly, smoking prevalence varies by race and ethnicity, with American Indian/Alaska Native men and women having the highest rates (40.5% and 40.9%, respectively). Youth smoking prevalence in the US still remains high; in 2005, 23 percent of US high school students were smokers. In the absence of intervention, studies show that most adolescent smokers continue smoking as adults.
To make the greatest impact on lung cancer in the shortest amount of time, the American Cancer Society will capitalize on three key areas of opportunity moving forward: influencing policy makers to increase the number of people who live and work in smoke-free environments; working to secure increased tobacco taxes and appropriations for comprehensive tobacco control programs; and increasing the number of smokers who have access to high quality, paid smoking cessation counseling and medications. Leveraging the brand recognition the Society has built for the last 31 years for this event, the Great American Smokeout provides a powerful media platform to help further our work in these areas.