To the Point for 11/16/06

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A HOLIDAY PASSED THIS WEEK. As we head toward Thanksgiving next week and Christmas looming on the horizon, it’s a holiday that many of us missed.

Yesterday (Wednesday) was “Great American Smokeout” day across the country.

Before everyone starts dumping tobacco sticks in the front yard of the newspaper office, let me assure you that I understand the importance of tobacco in our local economy, even after the tobacco buyout occurred at the federal level.

But this is about more than an agricultural product. It’s about educating people to the dangers of smoking and using tobacco products. For many older Switzerland County residents, using tobacco is a longtime habit that they wish they could break from – but just can’t.

The urge to smoke is a huge one, and years of nicotine pouring into their lungs has left them with a powerful addiction. They talk of quitting and they understand the risks, but they simply can’t break the cycle of lighting up a cigarette.

To those people, many of whom will say “It’s my body and my life”, I say okay; but what we cannot turn our backs on as a society is the growing number of young people who are taking up smoking on a daily basis.

Older people got “hooked” long before all of the medical information that we now have was available. By the time the surgeon general’s report was published, millions of people were well into the habit.

It was even glorified on early television. Ever seen an old Andy Griffith television show? After a nice meal and helping Opie with his homework, Andy would retire to the front porch for a relaxing smoke.

When’s the last time you saw someone smoke on television? Society has moved in a new direction.

The American Cancer Society has held a smokeout for the past 29 years, and every year they ask people to simply go one day without smoking a cigarette. The method behind the message is that, much like kicking alcohol, a smoker must quit smoking “one day at a time”.

The idea for the Great American Smokeout grew out of a 1974 event. Lynn R. Smith, editor of the Monticello Times in Minnesota, spearheaded the state’s first “D-Day”, or “Don’t Smoke Day”.

The idea may have been inspired by Arthur P. Mullaney of Randolph, Massachusetts, who three years earlier had asked people to give up cigarettes for a day and donate the money they would have spent on cigarettes to a high school scholarship fund.

The idea caught on, and on November 18th, 1976, the California Division of the American Cancer Society successfully prompted nearly one million smokers to quit for the day. That California event marked the first “Smokeout”, and the Society took it nationwide in 1977.

Smoking is now prohibited on almost all domestic airline flights. Non smoking sections in restaurants are slowly but surely being converted to non smoking restaurants. Smokers will have to wait to light up after a meal until they leave the building.

That’s where the American Cancer Society and the Great American Smokeout come in.

It is estimated that about 47 million adults in the United States currently smoke. It is also estimated that about half of those people will die prematurely from smoking.

That’s a lot of people. Those are people who have grandchildren to play with and vacations to take and retirement to enjoy.

Those are people who never thought it would happen to them – and were dead wrong.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women, and this year there will be about 170,000 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed in this country.

More than 80 percent of lung cancer are the result of smoking.

So here’s the deal: I know that many of you are either unable or unwilling to quit smoking all together. Like I wrote earlier, I understand that smoking is a powerful addiction and not easily conquered.

What I would ask you smokers out there to do is two things: quit for one day – any day – and tell someone else not to start.

As tough as it is, you should be able to not smoke for one day. People can go a day without eating or sleeping – surely you can go a day without lighting up a cigarette. Try it, you may just find that it’s not as hard as you thought, and it may just lead to a second day.

But more important than that is that you should take the time at some point in the near future to tell a young person that they shouldn’t start smoking in the first place. Tell them about the money that it’s cost you. Tell them about the health that it has cost you. Tell them about how you feel when you can’t smoke in certain places.

Tell them whatever you want – just make sure and tell them not to start.

Our young people today have so many other things that they have to deal with on a daily basis; perhaps this is one thing that when we talk to them about the dangers of smoking, they just might listen.

If they listen they may not start; and if they don’t start, they just might live long enough to see their grandchildren grow up.

If you are successful, you just might save the life of someone that you love.