If you can quit for a day, you can quit for a lifetime — that’s the premise behind the Great American Smokeout, an annual observance held across the country by the American Cancer Society. The day is dedicated to bringing an end to the use of tobacco among the 45 million Americans who still smoke.
Held on the third Thursday of each November for the past 36 years, the Great American Smokeout was observed last week in Russellville and River Valley community as well. The special day was highlighted with a lunchtime event at Saint Mary’s Regional Health System. Tobacco users were challenged to “Toss ‘Em Today” — and to commit to a plan for quitting, or to refrain from smoking that day.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use remains the leading cause of premature and preventable death in the United States, and each year, billions of dollars are spent to treat tobacco-related illnesses. Smoking causes coronary heart disease (the number one cause of death in the United States) and doubles a person’s risk for stroke. Additionally, it causes cancers of the bladder, mouth, esophagus, kidney and lung.
Pregnant women who smoke are putting their babies at great risk as well, research shows. Not only does it increase the likelihood of birth defects and low birth weight in newborns, but the babies of mothers who smoke are also at greater risk for dying from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and if breast-fed, often experience significant sleep issues and disorders.
In an effort to put the health of its patients and guests first, Saint Mary’s has been a tobacco-free facility and campus for several years, and has been recognized by the Joint Commission for its work with patients who smoke. Being a sponsor in the Great American Smokeout has been just another way the hospital supports those who want to quit.
“We often see the negative effects that smoking and tobacco have on some of our patients,” said Mike McCoy, CEO of Saint Mary’s Regional Health System. “Our staff is diligent about providing these patients with cessation options, and because we wanted to find a way to promote these options to the public as well, we joined with several strong community partners to sponsor The Great American Smokeout. We are proud to have helped sponsor this event, and to have helped raise awareness. Our goal was to help tobacco users quit, at least for one day, with the hope that they will quit for good.”
Partnering with Saint Mary’s were the Russellville Courier, Arkansas Department of Health, Saint Mary’s Wellness Fitness Center, American Cancer Society and the Prevention Coalition. Held in Saint Mary’s Café 2, the event was free and open to the public.
As participants enjoyed their lunch (which featured, aptly enough, “cold turkey” sandwiches), they learned more about ways to stop smoking from Lyndsay Cochran, a prevention specialist with the Prevention Coalition. Cochran also discussed the state’s Act 811 — the “Smokefree Car Law” — which was expanded last summer to prohibit smoking in cars when children under the age of 14 are present.
“Arkansas was the first state in the nation to pass a law extending protection from secondhand smoke to cars. Originally passed in 2006, the law protected children under the age of six. Now children 13 and younger are protected,” Cochran explained.
City Mayor Bill Eaton was also a featured guest; he presented a proclamation declaring November 17, 2011, as the Great American Smokeout Day in Russellville. During his comments, Eaton described growing up with parents who were heavy smokers. “We must protect our children from being exposed to smoke inside a vehicle,” Eaton said. “Everyone who is exposed to secondhand smoke is at risk — but for our children, the risk is even greater.”
Although the day’s topic was a serious one, fitness experts Laurel Stabler and Nikki Graybill of Saint Mary’s Wellness Fitness Center lightened the mood by encouraging attendees to participate in the fun exercises they demonstrated. According to numerous studies, tobacco users who exercise are 50 percent more successful at quitting than those who do not. These studies have also found that smokers who do weight-bearing exercises can experience even greater success.
People who smoke readily agree that quitting isn’t easy. The addiction to nicotine, coupled with the psychological power of the ingrained habit, is too strong for most people to overcome by themselves. The good news is, however, that over a million Americans succeed at quitting each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Roy Boland, RN and Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) at Saint Mary’s, agrees and encourages smokers to not give up. “Nicotine is extremely addictive, but quitting is possible with proper support. We’re very fortunate to be able to take advantage of the Arkansas Tobacco Quitline. It is a great resource for helping users quit.”
The Arkansas Tobacco Quitline provides free motivational counseling with trained “quit coaches”, and offers free nicotine-replacement therapy medications such as gum and patches. Counseling is tailored to the specific needs of the tobacco user, and women who are pregnant are eligible to participate in a specialized cessation program designed for their needs. Available seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., the Tobacco Quitline can reached by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). The service is available in English and Spanish as well as additional languages. More information on cessation resources can also be found at the Arkansas Department of Health’s website on tobacco cessation at www.stampoutsmoking.com.