Great American Smokeout Celebrates 25th Anniversary

Not long ago, nonsmoking airplane passengers had no choice but to breathe clouds of smoke as other passengers lit up cigarettes in the next row. Restaurant diners had to tolerate the smell of tobacco while they tried to savor their meals. Now, the smoke is finally clearing.

On November 15, 2001, the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout will be 25 years old. Twenty-five years that have marked dramatic changes in the way society views tobacco promotion and tobacco use. The Great American Smokeout has helped to spotlight the dangers of tobacco use and the challenges of quitting, but more importantly, it has set the stage for the cultural revolution in tobacco that has occurred over this period.

Because of the efforts of individuals and groups that have led anti-tobacco efforts, there have been significant landmarks in the areas of research, policy and the environment:

* In 1977, Berkeley, California became the first community to limit smoking in restaurants and other public places.

* In 1983, San Francisco passed the first strong workplace smoking restrictions, including bans on smoking in private workplaces.

* In 1990, the federal smoking ban on all interstate buses and domestic flights of six hours or less took effect.

* In 1994, the state of Mississippi filed the first of 24 state lawsuits seeking to recuperate millions of dollars from tobacco companies for smokers’ Medicaid bills.

* In 1999, the Department of Justice filed suit against cigarette manufacturers, charging the industry with defrauding the public by lying about the risks of smoking.

* In 1999, the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) was passed, requiring tobacco companies to pay $206 billion to 46 states by the year 2025 to cover Medicaid costs of treating smokers. The MSA agreement also closed the Tobacco Institute and ended cartoon advertising and tobacco billboards.

"Those are just a few of the remarkable changes in the age-old acceptance of smoking as our cultural norm. What we have been doing can be characterized as the denormalization of smoking as an acceptable behavior," said Dileep G. Bal, MD, MS, MPH, national president of the American Cancer Society.

An estimated 47 million adults in the U.S. currently smoke, and approximately half will die prematurely from smoking. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women, and this year alone, there will be about 169,500 new cases diagnosed in the U.S. More than 80 percent of lung cancers are thought to result from smoking.

The American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout event grew out of a 1971 event in Randolph, MA, in which Arthur P. Mullaney 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. In 1974, Lynn R. Smith, editor of the Monticello Times in Minnesota, spearheaded the state’s first D-Day, or Don’t Smoke Day. The idea caught on, and on Nov. 18, 1976, the California Division of the American Cancer Society succeeded in getting nearly one million smokers to quit for the day. The first national Great American Smokeout was held in 1977.

In the past 25 years, the Great American Smokeout has been chaired by some of America’s most popular celebrities, including Sammy Davis, Jr., Edward Asner, Natalie Cole, Larry Hagman, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, the first "spokespud" Mr. Potato Head and many others.

The American Cancer Society will continue its efforts to defeat lung cancer, to inform people about the dangers of smoking and to save lives by providing the tools needed to help smokers quit. For more information about the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, call 1-800-ACS-2345 or visit their web site at