By Darla Shelden
Sixteen people die everyday in Oklahoma due to tobacco-related illnesses. These preventable deaths recently motivated the Oklahoma County Tobacco Use Prevention Coalition, Eagle Ridge Institute (ERI), and UMB Bank to participate in the national Great American Smokeout (GASO). In its 37th year, the GASO encourages smokers to make a one-day quit attempt in hopes of quitting for life, and offers tools they can use to quit for good.
Together these organizations hosted GASO events at two UMB branch locations, in downtown Oklahoma City and in the Historical Stockyards District. Tobacco users ready to make a change could drop off their cigarettes in exchange for their pledge to quit. Each participant received a ‘quit kit’ and information on the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline.
Mary Blankenship Pointer, UMB Bank Senior Vice President of Business Development said, ‘“This is our third year to host the Great American Smokeout. We play an active role in the community and see this as a great opportunity to show our support.”
Participants could also register to win prizes, that included two turkeys and a 37-piece Husky toolkit donated by Home Depot. Free hotdogs and beverages were provided.
“We had about 400 people come through at our last event,” said Pointer. “If you can affect the life of one person, it’s a successful event.”
Hiawatha Bouldin, ERI Regional Prevention Coordinator and Oklahoma County Tobacco Use Prevention Coalition member said, “In my 10 years of working in Oklahoma Substance Abuse Prevention, I have yet to find one good excuse for using tobacco. Tobacco users will indicate stress relief, weight control, social acceptance, even just being ‘the sucker at the other end’. The last reason was a favorite of mine during my 25 or so years of tobacco use.”
Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the US, yet about 43.8 million Americans, nearly 1 in every 5 adults, still smoke cigarettes.
“Nearly 70 percent of present tobacco users would like to stop,” said Boudlin. “For this to happen, they need help from people like us, as well as help from both smokers and non-smokers.”
Coalition member B.J. Ellison said, ““We know quitting tobacco is not easy. We wanted to send the message that if you can quit for one whole day, you can quit for life. We support the GASO to encourage Oklahomans to take a serious step towards changing their life.”
The GASO event also provides an opportunity for the Oklahoma County Tobacco Use Prevention Coalition to support current legislative effort to restore local rights.
“In Oklahoma, the tobacco industry is actively lobbying your legislature to keep local communities from making their own decisions about smoking in public places or cars or anything related to improving your health,” Ellison says. “We want to remind communities in Oklahoma County that you can contact your legislature and encourage them to support restoring local rights.”
Nationwide, 18 percent of high school students and 4 percent of middle school students were smoking cigarettes in 2011.
According to the American Cancer Society, about half of all Americans who keep smoking will die because of the habit. Each year about 443,000 people in the United States die from illnesses related to tobacco use. Smoking cigarettes kills more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide, and illegal drugs combined.
“The more information and resources we can provide to tobacco users, the greater the chance of their success in quitting becomes,” said Bouldin. “The less tobacco users we have, the healthier we all become. The Great American Smoke Out is just one of many opportunities we have to get the message out that there’s help for anyone and everyone who want to kick this habit. What they need to know is that quitting happens “one day at a time”.
For more information call 405-425-4328. Oklahomans who want to quit smoking can call the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669). For Spanish call 1-800-793-1552. The helpline is also available online at okhelpline.com. Registration and support is free for both services and a free two-week starter kit of nicotine patches, gum or lozenges is available.