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Give It Up for the Great American Smokeout

Every attempt to quit is a step toward stopping for good, experts say

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 17, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Last year, nearly 2.3 million Americans quit smoking -- for a day.

And the American Cancer Society is urging smokers to try butting out again -- at least for 24 hours -- on Nov. 18 during the 28th Great American Smokeout.

"The idea of the one-day event is to demonstrate to people that they can at least stop smoking for a day, that it's not impossible," said Tom Glynn, a tobacco-control expert with the cancer society.

The message seems to be reaching people, he added. "Eighteen percent of smokers reported quitting, or at least cutting back, part of that day," Glynn said.

If all those smokers quit for good, it would make a big impact on lung cancer rates. "About 90 percent of lung cancer is associated with primary or secondary smoke exposure," he said.

It's also no coincidence that lung cancer rates have started falling for both sexes in the past five to six years, Glynn said.

"We've just reached the equilibrium point, whereby there are 46 million former and current smokers. That gives hope to people to know of so many fellow nicotine addicts reforming. It sends the message that, if they can do it, so can you," he said.

Still, national figures estimate that 40 percent of U.S. smokers make a quit attempt every year, but only 3 percent succeed. "That shows just how addictive smoking is," Glynn said.

The cancer society hopes to inspire even more quitters this year with the help of musical icon and Motown legend Smokey Robinson, who has been named Honorary National Smokeout Chairman.

Robinson's reason for heading the event?

"I have seen too many of my friends and fellow musicians die because they themselves smoked or spent their lives performing in smoke-filled clubs," he said in a statement.

Robinson will kick off the event in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with "Breathe Free D.C.," the cancer society's local campaign to pass a comprehensive smoke-free workplace law in the nation's capitol. And he'll lend his voice to a cancer society stop-smoking message as part of a satellite radio media tour in markets with ongoing smoke-free campaigns.

"I'm thrilled to be teaming up with the American Cancer Society not only to give individuals the help they need to stop smoking on November 18, but also to encourage employers and communities across the country to go smoke-free -- forever," Robinson said.

According to the cancer society, the health benefits gained from quitting smoking kick in almost immediately:

  • 20 minutes: blood pressure drops, circulation increases and heart rate slows down;
  • Eight hours: carbon monoxide levels in blood drop to normal and oxygen levels rise to normal;
  • 24 hours: the chance of having a heart attack begins to drop;
  • Two weeks to three months: lung function increases by up to a third.

Glynn said people should know it's never too late to quit.

"Heart disease risk turns around quickly. One year after quitting, the excess risk of heart attack and death from heart disease is cut in half," he said. "Five to 15 years after quitting, the risk of stroke is reduced to that of a nonsmoker. And 15 years after quitting, the risk of death is nearly that of people who've never smoked.

It typically takes three to six attempts for people to quit for good, Glynn said. And smoking urges are worst during the first two weeks after quitting. Following that, they're most likely to occur in situations associated with smoking, such as after dinner or in a car.

To help combat those urges, the cancer society recommends practicing the four Ds:

  • Deep breaths;
  • Do something else to get your mind off the craving. Call a friend, go for a walk, chew on a carrot stick;
  • Drink lots of water throughout the day, especially during a craving;
  • Delay reaching for a cigarette; the urge will pass.

More information

For more on the Great American Smokeout, visit the American Cancer Society.

SOURCES: Tom Glynn, Ph.D., director, science and trends, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; Smokey Robinson, entertainer
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