The Great American Smokeout Turns 36

This month, we celebrate the 36th anniversary of The Great American Smokeout. The widespread recognition of this important event represents more than simply reducing or eliminating smoking from workplaces, schools, restaurants, and public spaces. It’s a testimonial to advocates’ ability to raise public awareness of health- and wellness-related actions that have far-reaching implications and consequences for those who participate, and even for those who choose to ignore science and warnings from the medical community.

The Great American Smokeout is held on the third Thursday in November and has helped dramatically change Americans’ attitudes about smoking. These changes have led to community programs and smoke-free laws that are now saving many lives. Annual Great American Smokeout events began in the 1970s, when smoking and secondhand smoke were commonplace.

Each year, the Great American Smokeout also draws attention to the deaths and chronic diseases caused by smoking. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, many state and local governments responded by banning smoking in workplaces and restaurants, raising taxes on cigarettes, limiting cigarette promotions, discouraging teen cigarette use, and taking further action to counter smoking. These efforts continue, and from 1965 to today, cigarette smoking among adults in the United States has decreased from more than 42 percent to around 20 percent. Strong smoke-free policies, media campaigns, and increases in the prices of tobacco products are at least partly credited for these decreases.

Smoking is responsible for nearly one in three cancer deaths, and one in five deaths from all causes. Another 8.6 million people live with serious illnesses caused by smoking. Still, about one in five U.S. adults (more than 43 million people) smoke cigarettes and about 15 million people smoke tobacco in cigars or pipes or use “smokeless” tobacco products. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women. About 87 percent of lung cancer deaths are thought to result from smoking, which also causes cancers of the larynx, mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder. It has also been linked to the development of cancers of the pancreas, cervix, ovaries, colon/rectum, kidney, stomach, and some types of leukemia.

As if the human toll wasn’t incentive enough, smoking causes more than $193 billion in annual health-related costs in the United States, including smoking-attributable medical costs and productivity losses. That’s something every employer can’t ignore, as it affects our costs of doing business, directly and indirectly.

We can’t fix everything for everybody — nor should we — but we can tackle our own personal health, and promote wellness among our families and staff.  Eliminating smoking from our workplaces is an important step, as is encouraging improved nutrition, lower-sugar snacking, exercise/fitness, and overall stress-reduction techniques. Regardless of staff size, creating a safe, healthy workplace is an important component of employee wellness. It helps boost productivity, quality, teamwork, customer service, and retention. The Great American Smokeout occurs annually, but overall wellness can be practiced every day.

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If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!