The American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout is held every year on the third Thursday in November. Forty-two million Americans smoke cigarettes and some of these individuals are eager for November 19th to pass quickly, before they are challenged to quit. Others are sincerely hoping this occasion will be their incentive to stop smoking permanently.
Many people can’t quit the first time they try. “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times,” humorist Mark Twain once said. But there is nothing humorous about the long-term effects of smoking. Not only lung cancer, but a host of serious medical conditions can result from the tobacco habit.
It’s the nicotine found naturally in tobacco which is the real culprit, because it’s “…as addictive as heroin or cocaine,” according to the American Cancer Society website. However, “Smoking cessation [stopping smoking] represents the single most important step that smokers can take to enhance the length and quality of their lives,” said the US Surgeon General back in 1990.
But have you ever urged a smoker to quit? When my now grown son was a little boy, he would constantly plead, “Daddy, please don’t smoke.” As an innocent child, he didn’t realize that when someone is addicted to any substance, no matter how much they love you, often that substance will win.
It didn’t look much like winning last New Year’s Eve when his dad died. There were oxygen tanks, plastic breathing hoses, and countless bottles of prescriptions amid his father’s earthly possessions. There was also a grieving son.
Before the end, there was first a decade of suffering, of being housebound, of gasping for breath, of the frantic feeling of drowning for lack of oxygen on occasional ambulance rides to the emergency room. My poor ex-husband couldn’t quit though, not even when the oxygen tank arrived, because that’s how addiction works.
I’m not judging, because I smoked when I was young. In the 1980s, I was even a corporate sales representative for a tobacco manufacturer. This was my first job after graduating from college with a Bachelors degree in business, and I was proud of being part of the company’s national sales team.
Already divorced, as the single mom of a toddler, I celebrated the good fortune of a generous salary, company car, and corporate perks. I studied brand loyalty, consumer behavior, and marketing techniques excited to introduce more customers to our attractively packaged products. Yet the world was becoming aware that lung cancer and smoking were indisputably linked.
They should have realized sooner, because in 1964 the U.S. Surgeon General initially released a report on the harmful effects of smoking. The Advertising Act of 1965 caused the warning, “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health,” to be put on cigarette packs, but most of us didn’t really believe it.
We started believing it by the time 51-year-old Wayne McLaren, a former Marlboro Man, died in 1992 after smoking for 25 years. The actor who was part of the highly successful Marlboro marketing campaign that began in the 1950s later created his own anti-smoking campaign. Some of his last words included, “Take care of the children. Tobacco will kill you, and I am living proof.”
Today, cigarette smoking looks different with E-cigarettes having taken the forefront with young people. More minors use these than traditional cigarettes. Who could have guessed that e-cigarette companies are often owned by big tobacco companies? Supposedly, they are lots safer than their traditional counterpart. Yet they are all about nicotine, addiction, and creating dependence on a product that only scientific data and time will reveal the true long-term side effects.
After all, according to the title of a 2014 Los Angeles Times article by Matt Pearce, “At least four Marlboro Men have died of smoking-related diseases.” Those once ruggedly handsome cowboys pictured with a cigarette dangling from their lips, probably ended up with plastic tubes and oxygen tanks just like my son’s late father. If only, he could have listened when his little boy begged, “Daddy, Please don’t smoke.”
For many individuals, there is still time to stop smoking, before tobacco takes an irreversible toll on your health. The Great American Smokeout could be the first step in your plan, along with utilizing the amazing support tools for those wanting to kick the habit found on the American Cancer Society website at www.cancer.org. If someone has been begging you to quit, please do it before it’s too late. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for someone you love.
Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com
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