The Great American Smokeout: “Training Day” for Quitting Smoking

Great American Smokeout - Training DayMark Twain famously said, “Giving up smoking is easy. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”

As a former smoker, I can relate. I don’t remember how many times I quit. But I would never consider those times “failures”. They were learning opportunities.

“Training,” if you will, for the day it would finally stick.

The Great American Smokeout

That’s kind of what the Great American Smokeout is…a training day.

The Great American Smokeout is on the third Thursday of every November. It was started officially in 1977 as a nationwide event and is still celebrated nationwide in schools, workplaces, and communities. In many areas there are rallies, there are parades, and there are special menus with “cold turkey” offerings.

I “celebrated” the Great American Smokeout many times over the years. Sometimes I started with the intent of making it THE quit date. Other times I just wanted to see if I could do it.

To be honest, for me, it never happened that a Smokeout day became my actual quit day.

But it offered opportunities to practice for the day I would quit for good after 25 years!

If you’re a smoker thinking of quitting, you’re not alone

About 36.5 million Americans still smoke. More than 70 percent say they want to give it up. Around 40 percent have tried more than once; another 40 twice or more.

There is plenty of literature and advice out there on the American Cancer Society website. And there are lots of folks willing to back you up.

Supporting a smoker

If you are someone who cares about a smoker and are encouraging them to quit, don’t be surprised if the Great American Smokeout is not a priority for them. Conformity is typically not high on a smoker’s list. And the last thing any smoker wants is to be pressured into quitting. Pushing them is a sure way to guarantee that they won’t.

By all means, share information and let them know you are there to support them. But don’t take it personally if they’re less than enthusiastic. It must be the smoker’s choice. It really has to be something the individual wants for himself or herself.

When they’re ready, they’ll make the choice.

What finally made me quit?

It wasn’t any one thing.

Not my little children begging me to quit.

Not seeing parents and grandparents of their friends suffering, and dying, from smoking-related illnesses.

Not even looking at my own family history and knowing I was pushing the envelope.

Not the realization of how much I was actually spending on cigarettes.

Not smelling the stale smoke reeking on the clothing others and wondering if I smelled that bad.

Not worrying about taking breaks at work and whether it was affecting my job, or trying to hide it when I got a new job.

It wasn’t any one of these things. I think it was a snowball effect over the years, combined with many attempts to quit and being ready for it when the right day came.

That’s where the “training” finally paid off.

Getting through the day

As many times as I tried before I finally quit, there were a few things that helped every single time. So here are a few of my own “training tips” for the Great American Smokeout:

First of all, remember it’s only one day.

Throw away all of your cigarettes, and hide all of your lighters and ash trays. Just for the day.

Avoid alcohol while you’re quitting. Just trust me, it makes sense.

Candy, gum and carrot sticks are all helpful.

But what helped me the most were ice-cold water and straws.

I preferred water with ice. The “shock” of the cold simulated the feeling when I would first inhale a cigarette. It was not the same, to be sure, but it was like that first (for lack of a better word) refreshing drag.

I used the straws for sipping the water, of course. But I also cut them up into cigarette-sized twigs and “sucked” on them when I really wanted to smoke a cigarette. This offered both a soothing distraction and a psychological reminder; I was sucking in air instead of the poisons from a cigarette, and being grateful for the air I was breathing and the fact that I could breathe it in.

Dare to dream

You’ve heard of visualization, right? It’s okay to picture the things you’ll be able to do when you no longer smoke.

I visualized myself sitting through a movie or television show, getting through a morning at work, or a family dinner without having to step outside for a smoke break. I wanted to smell better. I wanted to feel better.

I wanted to live longer than the statistics predicted I would if I kept it up.

If you’re a smoker who’d like to quit, what are the things you picture yourself doing?

Whether you choose the Great American Smokeout or any other day as your training day, please share in the comments and let others cheer you on!

See the American Cancer Society website for resources and support for quitting smoking.


Author: Shelley English

Shelley is a wife, mom and executive assistant who loves to spend the rest of her time running and writing.

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