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Be a Quitter – it’s OK. Really.

November 14, 2012

By Thomas J. Glynn, Ph.D., director, Cancer Science and Trends and director, International Cancer Control.

It is okay, even a good thing, to be a quitter – that is the key message of the 37th Great American Smokeout. And thousands, perhaps even millions, of America’s 44 million smokers will do just that on November 15 – become quitters by putting their cigarettes away for that day, and hopefully, forever.

The Smokeout has been called many things – an iconic event, a cultural touchstone, a national tradition – but for millions of Americans, it is more than that. It is a life-saving event. Whether they stopped smoking on a Smokeout day, used Smokeout to think about stopping, or used it to gently urge a friend or family member to stop smoking or think about stopping, it has marked a positive, and long-lasting, turning point in their lives.

And the Smokeout has had, and continues to have, effects beyond the United States. Every year, other countries, such as England and New Zealand, have adopted “No Smoking Days” and, increasingly, the World Health Organization’s “World No Tobacco Today”, held on the 31st of May each year, has been used by many of the 193 United Nations members to encourage smokers in these countries to be a quitter for the day, or longer.

There is little doubt that these Smokeout-style quit smoking days are very much needed. According to the recently-published fourth edition of The Tobacco Atlas, nearly 1.3 billion people – 20% of the world’s population – are current cigarette smokers, consuming nearly 6 trillion cigarettes every year. Since The Tobacco Atlas also reports that nearly half of these smokers would like to quit, or have tried to, the value and life-saving potential of events such as the Great American Smokeout become obvious.

The Tobacco Atlas also reports that resources to aid smokers in their quit attempts are scarce in many countries. So, Smokeout-style quit-smoking days can also be quite important in attracting media attention and focusing that attention on the need for governments and civil society to not only encourage smokers to quit, but also to provide means for them to do so, such as well-trained healthcare providers, affordable stop-smoking medications, and smoking quitlines – all measures required under Article 14 of the World Health Organization’s global tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

As more and more measures are being enacted under this treaty which cause smokers to consider quitting, e.g. more widespread smokefree environments, higher cigarette taxes, the importance of Smokeout-like days which are set aside to focus attention on the enormous health, social, and economic benefits associated with quitting becomes greater. At the same time, there remain significant challenges to global tobacco control, including quitting, but none are insurmountable – despite the undermining efforts of the multinational tobacco companies – though they will require the focused effort of tobacco control advocates working together with governments and civil society to address them.

As these challenges are being addressed, let us pause and take the time today to applaud all those smokers who will take pride in being a quitter and participating in the Great American Smokeout. 

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