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The First Day of a Tobacco-Free Life

The 32nd Annual Great American Smokeout begins Today (November 20, 2008)

Published: November 19, 2008

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Approximately 43.4 million (or one in five) US adults are current smokers, and smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke result in approximately 443,000 premature deaths in the US annually. But this needn't be the case. The third Thursday of November—which this year falls on November 20—marks the Great American Smokeout, an annual event that encourages smokers to quit for at least one day in the hope that this might challenge them to stop using tobacco permanently and to raise awareness of the many effective ways to quit for good.

The Great American Smokeout grew out of a small-town event in Massachusetts in 1971 in which high-school guidance counselor Arthur Mullaney asked people to give up cigarettes for one day and donate the money they would otherwise have spent on cigarettes to a college scholarship fund. Then, in 1974, Lynn Smith, editor of Minnesota's Monticello Times, organized the state's first observance of "D-Day," or "Don't Smoke Day." Starting in November 1976, the California Division of the American Cancer Society (ACS) adopted the idea and ultimately re-christened the event the Great American Smokeout, successfully convincing nearly a million smokers to quit for one day even in the event's first year. Soon, the event went nationwide under the sponsorship of ACS. (The Minnesota event continued as "D-Day" well into the 1980s, and the state even added a "Quit-and-Win" contest component for a time.)

Participation couldn't be simpler: Smokers quit for the 24 hours of the Smokeout. Even those who do not quit permanently will have learned that it is possible to quit for a day—and, perhaps, for the rest their lives. "The single best step that a smoker can take to protect his or her health—and that of nonsmoking family members—is to quit smoking," said Matthew McKenna, MD, MPH, director, CDC's Office on Smoking and Health. "Quitting smoking has immediate as well as long-term benefits, including reducing risks for diseases caused by smoking such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory illnesses. Fortunately, there are now more options than ever to help someone quit using tobacco, and it's important to remember that it's never too late to take this important step. This annual event provides a terrific forum to do just that."

1-800-QUIT-NOW -- We can help you draw the line.

The fact is that 70 percent of US smokers say they want to quit, and smoking cessation has substantial and immediate health benefits. Smokers who use proven interventions, such as assistance from a healthcare provider, FDA-approved medications, and behavioral counseling, greatly increase their likelihood of quitting permanently. Smokers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and certain US territories who want help in quitting can access 1-800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) for free telephone counseling or visit the 1-800-QUIT-NOW website for quitting assistance.

The Great American Smokeout also draws attention to the many other proven interventions that increase smoking cessation: reducing out-of-pocket cessation treatment costs; establishing smoke-free environments in homes, workplaces, and restaurants; increasing the price of cigarettes; and launching mass media campaigns to inform and motivate tobacco users to quit.


A forward-looking investment for employers is to get employees (and their dependents) to quit smoking/using tobacco. This investment would result in more productive employees and lower healthcare costs over time. In tough economic times, this has both short- and long-term benefits for both the employer and the employee.

Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death and disease in the US. Tobacco use causes or complicates most of the nation's most prevalent and costly chronic diseases (e.g., cancer, heart and lung disease, stroke, asthma).

Tobacco addiction is recognized as a chronic disease, usually requiring multiple quit attempts before the user successfully quits. Seven out of every 10 tobacco users say they want to quit, and more than 40 percent make a quit attempt each year. Unfortunately, less than one out of every three smokers who try quitting uses a treatment that has been proven to increase their chances.

The National Working Group for Access to Cessation Treatment for Tobacco In Our Nation (ACTTION) maintains that this is due to a combination of factors, not the least of which is the failure of public and private policies to give tobacco users full access to all the tools they need to quit. Failure to act has cost precious lives and money. The National Working Group is a recently formed, action-oriented group of vested stakeholders (including business, health plans, government agencies, public health and tobacco control), brought together to identify gaps and opportunities for enhancing access to evidence-based tobacco-use treatments. The National Working Group is focused on drawing more attention to and driving solutions around the need for expanded consumer access to evidence-based treatments that can help more tobacco users quit.

Recently endorsed by CDC Director Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, the National Working Group's "Call for ACTTION" sets a goal to increase the number of smokers in the US with access to comprehensive tobacco dependence treatment to 50 percent by 2015, and 100 percent by 2020. To help achieve this goal, the "Call for ACTTION" recommends specific action steps for various stakeholders, including businesses/employers, public health/tobacco control, insurers/health plans, and policy makers. For more information on the "Call for ACTTION," visit

What has CDC done to help its own employees quit smoking?

One of the proven methods for reducing tobacco use is to change social norms through efforts such as creating tobacco-free environments. To this end, CDC has implemented both a tobacco-free campus policy for its worksites and a smoke-free conference policy covering CDC-sponsored conferences held in the US and territories. In putting these policies in place, CDC recognized that more needed to be done than eliminate places where employees could smoke. CDC needed to provide a supportive environment to help smokers quit and remain tobacco free.

Therefore, a year before CDC instituted the tobacco-free campus policy, a strong cessation services program was implemented to supplement what is available through employee insurance plans. This program helps to ensure that all employees have access to the help they would need to live healthier lives and more easily transition to a tobacco-free workplace.

CDC's cessation program includes an array of services, including:

  • Free counseling
  • FDA-approved, non-prescription nicotine replacement medication
  • Cessation tips and strategies
  • Seminars covering the best strategies for quitting successful
  • Cessation support via email

Employees are also encouraged to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) for additional cessation services provided by their state of residence.

For information, contact the Great American Smokeout or telephone: 800-227-2345 for advice on how to quit smoking. Also, check out these MMWR articles on the Great American Smokeout, and Cigarette Smoking Among Adults. The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
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