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An Open Letter on the Great American Smokeout

TODAY, the third Thursday of November, is the Great American Smokeout, when the American Cancer Society, health advocates, friends, and family encourage smokers to quit for just one day. For some, this will be the first step toward quitting for good. For others it may be just one of many “quit attempts” over many weeks, months, or years.

Quitting tobacco use is a challenging and personal undertaking. Setting the stage to model and support a tobacco-free life should be a community undertaking. Ninety percent of adult smokers started before age 18, so all efforts to let teens live in a tobacco-free environment should be supported.

Good news: According to a CDC report published last week, adult cigarette smoking in the U.S. has been on a steady decline from 2005-2014. Adults age 18-24 have made the most progress with a 32% reduction in smoking prevalence, compared to a 20% decline overall. (1)

Not so good news: Use of e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems by high school students (grades 9-12) in NYS grew to 10.5% in 2014, and 12.7% for young adults age 18-24. Over half of these e-cig users are also smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes. These data were presented by the NYS Bureau of Tobacco Control last month. (2)

Good news: The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) has just released a proposed rule that would make all HUD-funded public housing completely smoke-free. If fully implemented, low income residents and those with a disability who rely on subsidized housing would have far greater access to smoke-free air and a healthier home, a major win for health equity. (3)

Not so good news: Adult smoking rates nationally is still a picture of great disparities. The new CDC report also shows that adult smoking rates are considerably higher and have a slower rate of decline for the poor, those with limited education, those with a disability, those who are uninsured or on Medicaid, and for the LGBTQ population.

It is often said that the best way to quit smoking is to never start. Middle and high school students may “decide” to try smoking, prompted by perceived social pressures or, at least as often by ever pervasive tobacco marketing and modeling. However, for a majority of adult smokers the grip of nicotine addiction belies the impression that continuing to smoke is their “choice.” On this Great American Smokeout, our charge should be to keep the air smoke-free, respect smokers who want to quit, and support measures to get tobacco fully out of the public landscape.

Ted Schiele
Coordinator, Tobacco Free Tompkins
Tompkins County Health Department