Cold Turkey Day
American Cancer Society's smokeout program oversimplifies quitting process
Mark Twain said it is easy to quit smoking -- "I've done it a thousand times," he said.

Today thousands of Americans are expected to give up their tobacco simultaneously. This is the American Cancer Society's 22nd annual Great American Smokeout. The society encourages tobacco users to give up their cigarettes, pipes or chew for the whole day. The idea is one day without tobacco brings users closer to giving the stuff up for good. Yet as Twain points out, the reality is a little dimmer.

Only the staunchest tobacco lawyers and Virginia farmers still deny smoking is bad. At the very least, everyone agrees cigarette use can stink up the laundry. The nicotine in cigarettes is addictive, and almost four dozen different carcinogens are present in tobacco smoke. The health hazards, however, have not effectively dissuaded smokers.

Smokers must confront more problems than recurring coughs and risk of heart disease. Public opinion of tobacco is dropping. Public policy is making life harder for smokers. Fewer establishments allow smoking, cigarette taxes are increasing and tobacco companies are plagued by lawsuits.

Using tobacco is becoming more costly -- both financially and socially. Aside from the growing tax burden placed on smokers, the tobacco industry has been hit with multi-billion dollar legal settlements. Those costs will soon be passed along to the consumers as well. Although in past decades, a long, thin cigarette was fashionable, today it often elicits looks of disgust or requests to go elsewhere.

However, although tobacco is publicly derided, Americans are still lighting up.

After a walk through campus, most Aggies could guess smoking is common among college students. In fact, a Harvard University study discovered cigarette use among university students has risen 28 percent over the last four years.

In future years, these students will either struggle with kicking their smoking habits or they will likely bring more burdens to the country's health-care system as they suffer from smoking-related illnesses.

The American Cancer Society and its smokeout program intend to lend these smokers a helping hand. But it is probably not enough. As smoking loses its social status and with the availability on non-prescription nicotine deliverers such as patches and inhalers, most smokers who are interested in quitting have already managed to abstain from cigarettes for a day. The problem is not the will to quit for a day, the problem is maintaining that resolve for a lifetime. The cancer society's annual media blitz will not likely provide that sustaining resolve.

Smoking is addictive and habit-forming. The smokeout program provides encouragement -- which smokers need -- but most smokers need more to give up tobacco permanently. Perhaps handing out nicotine patches in the MSC is pretty drastic, but local cancer society chapters could advertuse services for quitting smokers throughout the year. Perhaps chapters could help organize groups of smokers who could encourage each other to kick the habit. If smokers need support the day of the smokeout, they could certainly use it the other 364 days of the year.

The Great American Smokeout program is not a bad thing. For many smokers, this may be the first day of a life without lighters and matches. Even tobacco users who do not wish to quit should consider abstaining for the day. It certainly will not hurt, and every little bit helps.

In short, the message is the same for the cancer society and for smokers: today is just one day. There are plenty more to come.
Dave Johnston is a senior mathematics major.