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Kick cigarettes in the butts today, every day

| Thursday, Nov. 21, 2002

Today marks the 26th annual Great American Smokeout, sponsored by the American Cancer Society. The challenge: give up smoking for just one day. For many, that smoke-free day leads to a life of nonsmoking.

This year, future nonsmokers have extra help. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has established a free telephone counseling service for people who are kicking the habit. The Quitline's toll-free number is 1-877-724-1090.

The American Cancer Society administers the Quitline, paid for with funds from the tobacco lawsuit settlement the state received.

According to Gene Terry of the American Cancer Society, trained counselors address the four crucial steps in quitting smoking: making the decision to quit, setting a date to quit, dealing with withdrawal and maintaining a smoke-free life. When a smoker calls the Quitline, a counselor sets up a series of five proactive telephone counseling appointments that last as long as 35 minutes and provide the caller with strategies for smoking cessation.

"Nicotine is an extremely addictive substance," says Angela Geiger, Quitline project director for the American Cancer Society. "Telephone counselors can help smokers through difficult situations where the craving for a cigarette might be overwhelming."

In addition to the telephone counseling, callers receive free literature designed to take them step-by-step through the quitting process. After the five counseling sessions end, counselors call smokers at three, six and 12 months as maintenance and to ensure successful cessation.

"The Quitline is an ideal adjunct to the Great American Smokeout," says Dan Catena of the American Cancer Society. "The Smokeout began with the premise that smokers could quit for one day and that they weren't alone."

According to Catena, the Smokeout started with a challenge from Arthur P. Mullaney to residents in and around Randolph, Mass. "In 1971, he asked smokers to give up cigarettes for one day and donate the money they saved to the local high school. In 1974, Lynn R. Smith, the editor of the Monticello (Minn.) Times asked readers to quit for a day. The California division of the American Cancer Society sponsored the first Great American Smokeout on Nov. 18, 1976, and 1,000,000 people quit for that one day."

A 1999 Gallup survey, the most recent available, indicated that 19 percent of smokers, about 8.9 million nationwide, quit for the Great American Smokeout. Ten percent of those, 890,000, remained smoke-free one to five days later.

Lynda Greenlee, of Bullskin Township, remains smoke-free seven weeks after quitting. She quit following surgery and has experienced positive changes. She breathes easier and says that foods taste better. It hasn't always been easy, she readily admits.

"The first two weeks were terrible. The craving was awful, but I've started feeling better," Greenlee says. Driving without smoking has been challenging and "it's still hard when I see someone smoking." She has an unopened pack, but doesn't plan to open it. "My kids would be so disappointed."

Greenlee credits her family with helping make quitting easier.

"They are so supportive," she said. "My kids are tickled pink. I want to be around to see my kids grow up."

Telling people she was quitting also helped. "It's harder to back down when everybody knows."

She doesn't worry about her kids smoking. "They are completely against it. From kindergarten on, they've had it ingrained in them that cigarettes are bad," she said. "When I was a growing up, no one said cigarette smoking was bad for us. All the cool people smoked. I started smoking pretty regularly when I was 18. It was nothing to smoke up to three packs a day. It's an awful habit. I never would have started had I known."

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