Be a Quitter, or Help a Quitter, for the Great American Smokeout

It is okay, even a good thing, to be a quitter – that is the key message of the 37th annual Great American Smokeout (GASO).

Thousands, perhaps even millions, of America’s 44 million smokers will do just that on November 15 – become quitters by putting their cigarettes away for that day, forever.

GASO began as a small-town event in the U.S. state of Massachusetts in 1970 and was adopted by the American Cancer Society’s California Division in 1976 as a national event.

That year, more than one million Americans reported that they quit smoking for the day and the numbers have grown ever since.

GASO has been called many things – an iconic event, a cultural touchstone, a national tradition – but for millions of Americans, it is more than that. It is a life-saving event.

Whether they stopped smoking on a GASO day, used GASO to think about stopping, or used it to gently urge a friend or family member to stop smoking or think about stopping, it has marked a positive, and long-lasting, turning point in their lives.

Smokeout Goes Global

Every year, other countries, such as England and New Zealand, have adopted “No Smoking Days” and, increasingly, the World Health Organization’s “World No Tobacco Today”, held on 31 May each year, has been used by many of the 193 U.N. member nations to encourage smokers in these countries to quit for the day, or longer.

There is little doubt that these GASO-style quit smoking days are very much needed.

According to the recently-published fourth edition of The Tobacco Atlas (1), nearly 1.3 billion people – 20% of the world’s population – are current cigarette smokers, consuming nearly 6 trillion cigarettes every year.

Since The Tobacco Atlas also reports that nearly half of these smokers would like to quit, or have tried to, the value and life-saving potential of events such as the Great American Smokeout become obvious.

The Tobacco Atlas also reports that resources to aid smokers in their quit attempts are scarce in many countries.

GASO-style quit-smoking days can also attract media attention and focus that attention on the need for governments and civil society not only to encourage smokers to quit, but also to provide means for them to do it.

How to Help

Ways to help smokers quit include training  healthcare providers, making stop-smoking medications affordable, and setting up smoking quitlines – all measures that are required under Article 14 of the WHO’s global tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

As more and more measures are being enacted under the treaty, e.g. more widespread smokefree environments, higher cigarette taxes, the benefits of ‘quit-smoking days’ – which focus attention on the enormous health, social, and economic benefits associated with quitting —  become greater.

Continued Challenges

At the same time, there are significant challenges to global tobacco control, including quitting (2), but none is insurmountable – despite the ways in which multinational tobacco companies undermine our best efforts.

It will require the focused effort of tobacco control advocates working together with governments, civil society, and organizations such as Global Bridges, to address these challenges.

Let us pause and take the time today to applaud all those smokers who will take pride in being a quitter and reap the health rewards by participating in the Great American Smokeout, as well as all those smokers who will become quitters throughout the world this year.

Related Links:

  1. Eriksen, M, Mackay, J, Ross, H.  The Tobacco Atlas: Fourth Edition.  Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2012.
  2. Glynn, T, Seffrin, JR, Brawley, OW, Grey, N, Ross, H.  The Globalization of Tobacco: 21 Challenges for the 21st Century. CA Cancer J Clin, 2010, 60, 50-61.