Preparing for the Great American Smoke-out: It starts one day at a time
The national 36th Annual Great American Smoke-out is happening on November 17, 2011! The American Samoa Community Cancer Coalition encourages smokers to take a day off from smoking and use the event as a first step towards kicking the habit. The Great American Smoke-out was developed by Lynn Smith, a publisher of the Monticello Times of Minnesota. The first observance was called “D Day” and went national in 1977 under the sponsorship of the American Cancer Society. The rules are simple: Quit smoking for the 24 hours of the Smoke-out. The wonderful thing is that you won't be alone; you can share your experience with fellow smokers at work, school, home…swap advice, jokes and groans with the other "quitters,". Local research has shown that smokers in our community have a difficult time smoking because ‘everybody smokes’, ‘it’s hard to quit if you are surrounded by smokers all the time’, ‘smoking is accepted’, and ‘there’s no support to quit’. The decision to quit smoking is a personal decision, and not an easy one to make. You have to be a strong willed individual and/or someone with a strong support group of friends and family. Participating in the Smoke-out is simply one step towards a smoke-free life, when smokers can support each other by creating smoke-free environments for at least 24 hours and hopefully encourage at least a few smokers to quit for good.
I am a former smoker. I was able to quit because I was ready and determined to quit. I had started smoking at the age of 18, and continued into my late 30’s (I smoked at least a pack every 2 days). At one point, I had stopped smoking for an entire year, but picked up the habit again. In 2005, I prepared mentally and made the resolution to quit smoking - for good. What was the difference in 2005? Well, I realized I had been smoking for a total of 19 years. My birthday was around the corner and I was ready to turn the big 4-0 the following year. I looked in the mirror and saw the effects smoking had on my outer appearance. I read about the effects of smoking and learned what it was doing to the inside of my body.
Smoking cigarettes ages skin faster than anything else apart from the sun. Aside from the many health issues associated with smoking—if you care at all about wrinkles and you want to look younger for longer, then smoking is out. For women, the effect of smoking on the skin and general health is much worse. A study done in 1965 defined a “smoker’s face”: gray, pale and wrinkled. Smoking restricts blood flow through the capillaries (tiny veins near the skin’s surface) preventing oxygen and nutrients getting to the skin. Smoking reduces the body’s store of vitamin A which provides protection from skin damage. It dulls the appearance to the skin, discolors the skin, and creates deeper wrinkles around the mouth and eyes. You lose more skin tone and elasticity than a non-smoker does. Smoking definitely does not make one prettier, and it is not “glamorous”.
When I decided to quit, I had to change my behavior altogether. I had to learn what triggered my desire for a cigarette (i.e. stress, end of a meal, arrival at work, entering a bar, etc.), learn how to avoid these triggers and plan alternative ways to deal with the trigger. Some people may find another smoker who is trying to quit, and help each other with positive words, by lending an ear when quitting becomes difficult. Others begin an exercise program that makes smoking impossible (like running, or power walking). Exercise relieves stress and helps your body recover from years of damage from cigarettes. What you pay for cigarettes will be more than enough to pay for a monthly gym membership.
Support and guidance from a physician is a proven way to better your chances to quit. Having your family and friends support your decision to quit, and asking them to be completely supportive and non-judgmental is also helpful. Smoking is a very social activity – it is a learned behavior, it is either accepted or not accepted by a group, others can influence each other to smoke or not smoke. If everyone in American Samoa decided cigarette smoking is socially unacceptable and disrespectful of our culture we could significantly reduce the number of deaths from cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Smoking is a choice. You can choose to quit, or choose to kill yourself slowly over a shortened lifetime.
Over the next few weeks, the Cancer Coalition and our partners will be asking you to pledge to stop smoking on November 17, 2011. You can make the pledge to quit altogether, or to stop just for that day. You only have one life to live, make it a healthy one.
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