The Great American Smokeout is coming soon for its annual observance and accompanying activities in the U.S. — this year on Thursday, Nov. 16. It’s a serious moment when smokers nationwide join with the sponsoring organization, the American Cancer Society, in efforts to help those addicted to nicotine to form a plan to quit and to learn more about the impact of tobacco use.
It’s estimated that 36.5 million Americans smoke cigarettes which makes smoking the number one preventable cause of death in the US. In fact, lung cancer, the most severe side effect of smoking, causes more deaths in the U.S. than any other type of cancer — killing more men and women than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined.
So, why do people smoke? Why do so many young people become addicted at such young ages? What’s the hype behind this habit? Because I can tell you from experience that there’s nothing glamorous about the suffering that comes during the later stages of lung cancer. I lost my father, two uncles, one aunt, a grandfather and my father-in-law to the disease.
As a little boy, I couldn’t stand cigarette smoke and remember feigning like I was choking whenever my father would light up in the car. He just ignored me. I was, however, successful in getting my mother to stop. It wasn’t hard either. I just refused to let her kiss me. I told her I couldn’t stand the smell.
During high school and college, I was very active in sports, playing basketball and tennis as if I had plans to turn pro, so smoking was definitely a “no-no.” I guess you could label me a “late smoke” because it wasn’t until I began working in corporate America in my mid-20s that I first picked up a cigarette. I attributed it to the boredom of 9-to-5 and too many after five soirees where liquor flowed with abundance.
Still, I managed to quit at least three or four times, the longest period being almost a year. But somehow, that dratted “coffin nail” would inevitably find its way back into my life, inserting itself into my daily routine as I logged long hours writing at my computer while chugging down cups of mostly-black coffee to stay awake.
I always chuckle when someone walks up to me — sometimes a teen, other times a Black man or woman — and asks with all seriousness, “Hey Brother, you got a Port?” [That’s a Newport cigarette for those who are unfamiliar with Black vernacular]. I’d laugh because I wasn’t a diehard Newport smoker and so when I would take out my generic, less tobacco-infused cigarette they’d look at me like I had lost my mind. I wanted to know how someone begging for something for free could be so particular. But in the Black community, Newport cigarettes have long dominated the smoking culture like Michael Jordan in the past and LeBron James today hold rein over the throne in the NBA.
The Great American Smokeout became a national event in 1977 after the California Division of the American Cancer Society persuaded one million smokers to quit for the day in 1976, showing the organization and other planners that they might be onto something of merit.
This year, I’m going to accept the challenge once more. I’m going to do it with my children, both in their 20s, in mind. I’m going to do it with my two grandsons and wanting to be around to see them become men, as an added impetus. I’m going to do it because I just don’t want my last days, which I pray are many, many decades in the future, to resemble what others in my family painfully endured.
I know the pain of lung cancer so why do I smoke? You’d think I would know better.