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Kick Butts for the Great American Smokeout


Thursday is the 44th edition of the Great American Smokeout, when health officials nationwide encourage those addicted to tobacco to begin their journey to cessation.

It began in the early 1970s, when smoking was considered more glamorous and “grown up.” Smaller-scale initiatives in Randolph, Massachusetts and Monticello, Minnesota to have people stop smoking gained popularity and moved westward.

“And on Nov. 18, 1976, the American Cancer Society’s California division convinced nearly one million smokers to quit for the day,” says a public service announcement produced by the ACS. “The following year, the Society took the event nationwide. And it officially became known as ‘The Great American Smokeout.’”

The event has become one of the American Cancer Society’s most successful and recognizable events, and is still going strong.

“Every year, on the third Thursday in November, smokers across the country decide to give up cigarettes for good,” said the PSA. “And take one of the most important steps towards living longer, healthier lives; so they can stay well and celebrate many more birthdays.”

The latest available figures from the group Truth Imitative show that in 2017, 16% of adults in Florida smoked cigarettes, compared to the national rate of 17%. Just under six percent of high school students smoked cigarettes on at least one day in the past 30 days. Nationally, the rate was 8.8%.

“When I started this program back in 2013, we had 25% [smokers in Santa Rosa County]; now we’re down to 18%. There’s progress due to a lot of outreach education and awareness from the Florida Department of Health, along with other partnerships throughout the whole county,” said Vince Nguyen, a tobacco cessation specialist with the Florida Department of Health in Santa Rosa County.

The focus this year, he says, is on employee cessation programs at area companies. 

“This year they’ve sent out ‘palm cards’ to help employers celebrate The Great American Smokeout, and encourage employees to quit for a day based on their health and bottom line.”

If a long-time smoker wants to kick the habit, Nguyen says they have to take that first step themselves – but he adds they’re there to help them with the second step forward. Four main options are available, including quitting over the phone or online. The most effective method he says, is “group quit” through AHEC — Area Health Education Centers.

“Where they calls us, and we refer [them] to AHEC to sign them up,” Nguyen said. “They attend basically a one-hour class for four weeks. During that class, they get the nicotine replacement – lozenges, patches and gum. They can get up to two sessions per year; but now they have four different options. Technically, they can get up to eight options a year now.”

In the past few years, the emergence of vaping has developed into another challenge for health departments, especially amid reports of people being sickened – and even dying – from the practice. Nguyen says they’re working on that with Tobacco-Free Florida.

“[Tobacco-Free Florida] requires that, if you have any further questions, you can contact them,” said Nguyen. “As grantees, we would under the umbrella of TFF. So, I can’t answer any further questions about the vaping part. But it is a challenge, I can answer that part.”

Tobacco prevention takes another form – keeping children from even starting. Nguyen says in Santa Rosa County, there’s SWAT – Students Working against Tobacco – which, along with DOH, begins educating kids in middle school.

“Right now we have five clubs – three middle school and two high school – in which we educate kids of the harmful effects of tobacco use, and second-hand as well as third-hand smoke,” Nguyen says. “So we try to educate them at the younger level so that way, when they get to the high school level, they know the difference between what’s good and what’s not good. Especially when it comes to tobacco products.”

There’s a financial consideration here as well. Quitting smoking not only benefits your health and increases life expectancy by 10 years, says Santa Rosa’s Vince Nguyen, but it also saves a former pack-a-day smoker roughly $2,000 annually, and more than $10,000 over five years.

For more information on how to set up Day One of quitting, go to your county’s Department of Health website, or visit www.cancer.org.

Image credit: Freepik