The Great American Smokeout is today

Despite all the publicity about the dangers of smoking, many Americans haven't given up their cigarettes. And thousands of kids start smoking every day.

The American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout on Nov. 17, 2011, is an attempt to change those two realities. The society is asking smokers to use that day to make a plan to quit. Or even to quit smoking just on that day.

"The main message for tobacco users is this: It's never too late to quit," says Corinne Husten, M.D., MPH, a senior medical advisor at the Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"However, there is real urgency to quitting as early in life as possible because every year dramatically increases the risk of getting a serious disease or dying," says Husten. And no matter how long you've been a smoker, the risk of getting cancer and heart disease is greatly reduced in the subsequent years, she says.

The Great American Smokeout went nationwide in 1977, and in the past three decades there have been dramatic changes in social acceptance of tobacco use, with many public places and work areas now smoke free.

But a lot of people still smoke—about 46 million adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Why? "Because quitting is hard; people are addicted," says Husten. "And kids think that it's cool. Their friends are doing it and they think that they can experiment and quit whenever they want to. But they get addicted, too."

The High Price of Smoking

CTP reports that U.S. smokers continue to pay a high price for this habit:

  • id="rrli11">Cigarette smoking is responsible for about 443,000 deaths a year. Use of other tobacco products, including cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco, causes additional deaths.
  • id="rrli12">There is $193 billion in medical costs and lost productivity from premature death each year.
  • id="rrli13">Adults who smoke cigarettes die 14 years earlier than nonsmokers.
  • id="rrli14">More than 8.5 million Americans have chronic illnesses related to smoking.
  • id="rrli15">1 in 4 high school students report current tobacco use.
  • id="rrli16">About 3,500 kids start smoking and 850 kids become regular smokers every day.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), smoking is the leading cause of premature, preventable death in the United States. About 40 percent of those deaths are from cancer, 35 percent from heart disease and stroke, and 25 percent from lung disease.

CDC estimates that about 49,400 adult nonsmokers die each year in the United States as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke.

Husten says one of the greatest obstacles in helping people stop smoking is the fact that tobacco use is so intertwined with the habits of their life. People may smoke with their morning coffee, for example, or after dinner. So quitting often means changing comfortable routines, which makes it harder.

Because it's so hard to quit, it's important for smokers to get help, Husten says. There are many treatment options, including over the counter and prescription medications. CTP's website4 lists federal resources  that can help you quit using tobacco products and learn more about youth tobacco prevention, effective treatment for nicotine addiction, and tobacco research and statistics.

There is also help available at 1-800-QUITNOW (1-800-784-8669) or www.smokefree.gov5, where counselors can advise smokers on the best treatment options for them.

Even if you just quit for a day, says Husten, you're learning what methods do and don't work for you and laying the groundwork for a future without tobacco.

This article appears on FDA's Consumer Updates page6, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

Nov. 17, 2011