Healthy Living

A Day for Quitters: Great American Smokeout

Nov. 13, 2017

Quit smoking—even for one day—and you will take an important step toward a healthier life, one that can reduce your risk for cancer as well as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. The American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout sets aside one day of every year—the third Thursday of each November—to encourage smokers to use the date to make a plan to quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day.

man's hands breaking cigarette

Easier said than done, though, as smokers who have tried to quit know too well. Almost 37 million Americans still smoke cigarettes—nearly one in every six adults—yet tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the U.S. Each year, more than one-third of all smokers try to quit, but fewer than 10 percent succeed.

The good news is that if you track smokers over their lifetime, more than half ultimately win the battle.

The pathway to sure success is different for everyone. Our experts, Drs. Scott McIntosh and Geoffrey Williams, offer these steps toward that goal:

1.  Quit for a Day 

If you can give up cigarettes for 24 hours, you double your chance for permanent success. Within just 24 hours, the carbon monoxide—which hinders blood from bringing oxygen to your cells, tissues, and organs—will be removed from your body, and the mucus and smoking debris will start to clear from your lungs, making breathing easier.

2.  Get the Facts, Get Motivated

Cigarettes and cigarette smoke contain in excess of 7,000 chemicals, including more than 70 known to cause cancer. Understanding how the addictive chemicals impact your health, and learning how the body can begin to repair itself after quitting, can serve as a strong motivator. It helps to have a genuine reason to change a behavior in order to be successful long-term. For example, quitting for your family so that you are around to enjoy your kids and grandkids is a powerful one. You need to want it and believe you can do it. happy healthy family members

3.  Make a Plan

Talk to your health care provider about strategies to quit, such as cold turkey versus a medication like varenicline, bupropion, nicotine patch, gum, or inhaler. Research shows that making a plan and building a support system of family, friends, and professionals improves the chances that you will quit successfully and beat nicotine addiction.

4.  Eliminate Temptations

Remove all ashtrays, lighters, matches, and cigarettes from the house because just seeing them can make you want to smoke. Eating sugarless hard candy or chewing crunchy vegetables helps keep your mouth busy, and the “burning” sensation of cinnamon candy mimics the feeling of smoking and kills the craving. Drinking a lot of water may keep you feeling full. Walking 30 minutes more per day, and reducing your calories modestly prevents you from gaining weight.

5.  Use Available Resources 

Take advantage of local resources (covered by Medicaid and many insurance plans) at the URMC Healthy Living Center, which provides personal counseling and help for developing a quitting plan with support from tobacco dependence counselors and medical staff. Information is available by calling (585) 530-2050. In addition, there are free resources available from the New York State Smokers’ Quitline: 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487) and

The Great American Smokeout is only one day annually that draws attention to quitting, but any day is a good day to make this change. Quitting smoking, while difficult, is one of the best decisions anyone can make to improve their overall health.
Scott McIntosh PhD
Scott McIntosh, Ph.D., is a University of Rochester Medical Center associate professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, and director of the Greater Rochester Area Tobacco Cessation Center. He also serves as the secretary for the American Cancer Society Board of Advisors in the Finger Lakes Region.
Geoffrey Williams MD PhD
Geoffrey C. Williams, M.D., Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Medicine/General Medicine, Psychiatry, Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, and clinical director of the University of Rochester Medical Center Healthy Living Center.