Great American Smokeout celebrates 45th anniversary

Nov. 17—POTTSVILLE — Thursday marks the 45th year the American Cancer Society is hosting the Great American Smokeout.

The event, held annually on the third Thursday in November since 1977, is an opportunity for people who smoke to commit to healthy, smoke-free lives, not just for a day, but year round.

Community groups, businesses and health care providers are encouraged to help people use the date to quit or initiate a smoking cessation plan that day.

William Rowan, director of counseling services for Lehigh Valley Hospital-Schuylkill, said that the Great American Smokeout gives people who may be considering quitting an opportunity to set goals.

"Some people may say: 'Look, I quit for a day. Maybe I can quit for good,' " Rowan said. "It is an opportunity for people to take a step and reflect that this may be a good time to quit."

Quitting smoking is not easy, he said.

For that reason, Rowan said that Lehigh Valley Hospital-Schuylkill the Time to Quit Nicotine Cessation Program to work with individuals wanting to stop smoking.

The program offers counseling and coaching to get a person ready to quit smoking, tells them what to anticipate by quitting and offers ways to remain smoke-free.

"It's a hard thing to do, but the right help and support makes it easier," Rowan said.

Although quitting is not easy, Rowan said, the support offered through Time to Quit, along with the services of other health care and support organizations, can put the goal within reach.

"At Lehigh Valley Hospital, we have an ongoing awareness about the dangers of smoking," he said. "That's the message we get out to our patients and the public as well."

Rowan said there are many reasons people are looking to quit smoking, most commonly being urged to do so by family members who are concerned about their health.

Secondly, he said, people often develop a medical condition and want or need to quit on the advice of their physician.

Thirdly, Rowan said, is the cost-saving incentive, since the current average price of a pack of cigarettes is around $10.

"The financial aspect is starting to play more and more of a role in people trying to stop," he said.

Rowan said the attention the annual program receives is a driving force in putting the idea into people's heads that, "Hey, this may be a good time to quit."

The Great American Smokeout began with a 1970 event in Randolph, Massachusetts, where Arthur P. Mullaney asked people to give up cigarettes for a day and donate the money they would have spent to a high school scholarship fund.

Then, four years later, the editor of a Minnesota newspaper spearheaded the state's first D-Day or Don't Smoke Day.

The idea caught on.

On Nov. 18, 1976, the California division of the American Cancer Society was able to get almost 1 million smokers to quit for the day.

That event marked the first official smokeout; the American Cancer Society took it nationwide in 1977.

Since 1977, there have been dramatic changes in the way the public views tobacco advertising and tobacco use.

The Great American Smokeout has helped drastically change Americans' attitudes about smoking, leading to community programs and smoke-free laws that are now saving lives across the country, according to the American Cancer Society.