Great American Smokeout is November 17

On November 17th, the American Cancer Society is hosting its 36th annual Great American Smokeout. This event encourages smokers to use the date to make a plan to quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day.

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the US, yet more than 46 million Americans still smoke. However, more than half of these smokers have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 3,000 young people become regular smokers every day, which means that 1 in 5 teens smoke cigarettes. The American Lung Association estimates that every minute four thousand eight hundred teens will take their first drag off a cigarette. Of those, about two thousand will go on to be chain smokers. The fact that teen smoking rates are steadily increasing is disturbing. Approximately 80% of adult smokers started smoking as teenagers.


For teenagers, it’s important to try to prevent them from even starting smoking. Here are some ideas for adults to use in preventing and/or talking to teens about smoking:

  • Understand the Attraction. To know what you’re dealing with, ask a teen how he or she feels about smoking. Ask which of their friends smoke. Listen closely to their answers so that you can tailor your prevention efforts to that teen’s particular concerns.
  • Once You Start, It’s Hard to Stop. Explain to teens that nicotine is addictive like any other drug. Most adults who started smoking in their teens never expected to become addicted. Also explain that nicotine is not just in cigarettes, but in all tobacco products. Smokeless tobacco, hookah smoking (smoking tobacco through a water pipe) and clove cigarettes are common alternatives sometimes touted as safe. Don’t let your teen be fooled.
  • Smoking Affects Health. Almost everyone knows that smoking causes cancer, emphysema and heart disease, but sometimes it’s hard for teens to see that far down the road. Try bringing the health issues home to them with the short-term consequences.  First of all, explain that our body does not need tobacco like it needs food or water, so the body often goes on the defense when it’s being poisoned, resulting in many first-time smokers feeling pain or throwing up when they start. Additionally, smokers will almost immediately see these effects: bad skin, yellow teeth, bad breath, reduced athletic performance, and increased risk of colds, flu and other respiratory illnesses.
  • Teach Refusal Skills. Sometimes kids just need to know how to gracefully get out of a peer pressure situation. Try role playing scenarios with teens to help them have confidence in saying no.
  • Do the Math. Smoking is expensive. Help teens calculate the weekly, monthly or yearly cost of a pack-a-day smoking habit. You might compare the cost of smoking with that of electronic gadgets, clothes or other teen essentials.
  • Be A Role Model. Teen smoking is more common among teens whose parents smoke. If you’re a parent, be your child’s role model and don’t smoke. Also, be sure to tell your teen that smoking isn’t allowed. Your disapproval may have more impact than you think. Teens whose parents set the firmest smoking restrictions tend to smoke less than do teens whose parents don’t set smoking limits.

Reasons to Quit

Most people know that smoking is bad for them, but quitting is so hard. Perhaps one of the best ways to fight the addiction is to thoroughly understand the benefits of quitting. If you know a teen who is smoking, share some of these facts with them.

  • Immediate Benefits. Quitting smoking offers some rewards right away. You will notice that your breath smells better, you and your belongings smell better, your teeth get whiter, the yellow coloring of your fingernails goes away, food tastes better, your sense of smell returns to normal, and you no longer feel out of breath with everyday activities.
  • Benefits Over Time. One of the major rationalizations that smokers use in not quitting is either that they have been smoking so long the damage to their health is already done, or that they haven’t been smoking long enough to really have done any permanent damage. Both of these ideas are false. Consider these facts that the American Cancer Society has put together from a variety of research. After quitting smoking for ONE DAY, your heart rate, blood pressure, and the carbon monoxide level in your blood all drop to normal. After a couple of months, your circulation improves and your lung function increases. One year after quitting, the excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker’s. After 5 years, your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder are cut in half. Your chance of a stroke or of cervical cancer have now fallen to the same level as a non-smoker. In 10 years, the risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking.
  • Long Terms Benefits. Smoking causes so many health problems, that quitting improves your health dramatically. It reduces your risk to cancer, emphysema and other chronic lung conditions, heart disease, and infertility and pregnancy problems. It reduces your risk of diabetes, depression, and risk of illness to colds, flu and other respiratory illnesses. Quitting also improves your athletic performance, circulation, and cognitive ability.

How to Quit

It is very difficult to quit smoking since nicotine is an addictive drug, but millions of people do it every year and the benefits of quitting are undeniable. Following are some tips, tools and tricks to give to any teen that wants to become cigarette free.

  • Throw away your cigarettes — all of your cigarettes. People can’t stop smoking with cigarettes still around to tempt them. Even toss out that emergency pack you have stashed in the secret pocket of your backpack. Get rid of your ashtrays and lighters, too. If you’re going to be a non-smoker, you won’t need these things again.
  • Get support. Tell your family and friends that you are quitting. Ask them to support you by not smoking around you, not teasing you, and not offering you cigarettes. Join a support group at your school or in your community. Find someone you can call for those times when you feel like you are having a weak moment and might smoke a cigarette. This person should know that you are trying to quit and can remind you of all the reasons why you decided to give up cigarettes. Spend a few days or a week away from your friends who smoke.
  • Chew. Cravings only last 15 seconds, so the goal is to distract yourself when it hits. The act of chewing relieves the desire for oral stimulation and keeps the mouth busy, as well. Have mints or gum stashed everywhere so they’re always handy. The taste of menthol or peppermint makes a smoker’s mouth feel cool, fresh, and clean, which tricks the brain into feeling less desire for that hot intake of smoke. Smokers often opt for nicotine gum, but many stop-smoking experts say a sugarless mint-flavored gum works just as well or better. Red grapes are another good substitute oral-stimulation technique because their natural chemicals and antioxidants work to relieve cravings.
  • Breathe deeply. When you were smoking, you breathed deeply as you inhaled the smoke. When the urge strikes now, breathe deeply and picture your lungs filling with fresh, clean air. Remind yourself of your reasons for quitting and the benefits you’ll gain as an ex-smoker.
  • Delay. When the urge takes hold of you and you feel like you are about to light up, tell yourself you must wait 10 minutes. Often this simple trick will allow you to move beyond the urge.
  • Avoid your triggers. You’re probably aware of the situations when you tend to smoke, such as after meals, when you’re at your best friend’s house, while drinking coffee, or as you’re driving. These situations are your triggers for smoking — it feels automatic to have a cigarette when you’re in them. Once you’ve figured out your triggers, try to avoid those situations or have a substitute (mints, gum, etc.) ready for that time. If you smoke when you drive, get a ride to school, walk, or take the bus for a few weeks. If you normally smoke after meals, make it a point to do something else after you eat, like read or call a friend. Go to non-smoking places with your friends, like the mall or movies. Don’t drink alcohol since it will likely lower your willpower and increase your chances of having a cigarette.
  • Wash all your clothes. Get rid of the smell of cigarettes as much as you can by washing all your clothes and having your coats or sweaters dry-cleaned. If you smoked in your car, clean that out, too. If your family smokes, ask them to not smoke in your room.
  • Keep yourself busy. The more distracted you are, the less likely you’ll be to crave cigarettes. Quit on a Monday so that school will help keep you distracted. Staying active and exercising is an excellent way to distract yourself, make you feel better, and make sure you keep your weight down and your energy up, even as you’re experiencing the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Try planning some activities during the first couple of weeks to take your mind off smoking.
  • Use a nicotine patch or gum. Not all experts agree on the usefulness of nicotine substitutes, also called nicotine replacement therapy, since they don’t break the physical addiction to smoking. But they can be useful tools in overcoming the psychological side of the smoking addiction, which is a big part of the equation for many smokers. Still, experts say, patches and gum should only be used in combination with counseling or a support group; they’re not likely to work on their own. There are several different nicotine substitutes, and a doctor can help you determine which one will work best for you. Sprays and inhalers are available by prescription only. The patch requires the least effort on your part, but it doesn’t offer the almost instantaneous nicotine kick that gum does.
  • Reward yourself. Set aside the money you usually spend on cigarettes. When you have stayed tobacco free for a week, 2 weeks, or a month, buy yourself a treat like a new CD, book, movie, or some clothes.

Resources to Help Quit Smoking from the American Cancer Society:

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