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Smokers Ready to Quit, Unite!

Great American Smokeout offers a shot at success

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 20, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- If you're a smoker who wants to quit and believes there's strength in numbers, tomorrow is your day.

As a part of the annual Great American Smokeout, millions of smokers nationwide are expected to put their cigarettes aside for at least one day in an effort to quit for good. The event, in its 26th year, is sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

"We're expecting several millions of people to stop smoking for at least 24 hours. For a lot of smokers, it's the first step to stop. It may not be the permanent stop, since most people take four or five times to stop completely, but it's a first step," says Tom Glynn, director of science and trends for the American Cancer Society.

Adds U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson: "There's no question that tobacco usage claims the lives of far too many Americans. With the harmful effects of smoking so well-known, isn't it time to make the effort to quit? That's what the Great American Smokeout is all about."

An estimated 47 million people in the United States smoke. And more than 430,000 of them die every year as a result of tobacco use, roughly one in every five deaths, according to the cancer society.

However, the United States just passed an important milestone in the trend against smoking, Glynn adds.

"We've just reached a point where there are as many former smokers in the U.S. as those who do smoke, about 47 million each. That shows people can quit smoking. And these people will add 10 or 20 years on their lives," he says.

Studies show, however, that about 70 percent of smokers want to quit, but only 35 percent to 45 percent try during any given year, the society reports. Events such as the Smokeout, which provides support to smokers who want to quit, help more people take that step.

"People aren't doing this in isolation. Often they will pick several others to do it with them, such as friends, co-workers and family," Glynn says.

Moreover, choosing a specific day to quit smoking, especially one when support is available, drastically improves a smoker's chance of successfully quitting, says Paul Billings, the American Lung Association's assistant vice president for government relations.

"Any day could be your quit day, but days like this help attract attention and enable smokers to take the first step toward quitting," Billings says. "Whatever it takes to help them quit."

The single greatest thing a person can do to improve his or her health is to quit smoking, Billings says. While many smokers find it difficult, a community event such as the Smokeout gives them greater determination.

"There are a variety of different techniques to quitting smoking, but what we try to do is create a community to help smokers quit," Billings says.

A study released this week at the National Conference on Tobacco or Health illustrates that point. Smokers who receive telephone counseling as they try to quit are 60 percent more likely to succeed than those who don't, the society's yearlong study concluded.

In the study, 1,000 Texas residents who sought help to quit smoking were randomly assigned to two groups. One group got only self-help materials through the mail, and another got the materials and telephone counseling. While only 13 percent of the first group quit smoking, 21 percent of the second group found success.

Also, as a part of the Smokeout, the society will assist the National Cancer Institute in a massive national lung screening. The institute plans to give chest scans to 50,000 current and former smokers to determine which of two X-ray techniques is best able to detect cancer.

Besides finding the best type of chest scan, the program also seeks to increase awareness about the benefits of screening. The institute estimates that lung cancer will kill nearly 155,000 people this year, more than cancers of the breast, prostate, colon and pancreas combined.

Overall, the five-year survival rate for lung cancer stands at 15 percent. However, when the cancer is caught and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes or other organs, the five-year survival rate increases to 48 percent, according to the cancer society.

Because very few smokers get screened for cancer, only about 15 percent of cases are caught at that early, localized stage, the society says.

The American Cancer Society is assisting in the trial by recruiting participants. Current or former smokers, aged 55 to 74, can get free screenings through the study, as long as they haven't been diagnosed with lung cancer and aren't enrolled in another lung screening program.

To participate, call the cancer institute's Cancer Information Service at (800)-4-CANCER or the cancer society at (800) ACS-2345.

What To Do

For more information about the Great American Smokeout, visit the American Cancer Society. For more help quitting smoking, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Tom Glynn, director, science and trends, American Cancer Society; Paul Billings, assistant vice president, government relations, American Lung Association, New York City; Tommy Thompson, secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C.
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