For 45 years, the Great American Smokeout has offered smokers across Oklahoma and the U.S. an opportunity to quit tobacco for a day – or for a lifetime. We spoke with Paula Warlick, grassroots manager for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) about the event and how it has raises awareness about tobacco cessation and encourages tobacco users to begin their quit journey.

How did the Great American Smokeout come about?

This is the Great American Smokeout’s 45th year as a national event. The idea for the GASO grew from a 1970 event in Randolph, Massachusetts, which 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. Then 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 November 18, 1976, the California Division of the American Cancer Society got nearly 1 million people who smoke to quit for the day. That California event marked the first official Smokeout, and the American Cancer Society took it nationwide in 1977. Since then, there have been dramatic changes in the way the public views tobacco advertising and tobacco use. Many public places and work areas are now smoke-free – this protects non-smokers and supports people who smoke who want to quit.

The Smokeout has changed significantly since. We ask people to pick that day and make a quit plan by calling the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline at 1-800-QUIT NOW or visiting online at The quit day doesn’t have to be during the Smokeout, it’s important to just pick a day and quit. We want smokers to be successful in their quit attempt. It is essential to figure out how you’re going to become smoke-free and how to deal with slip ups without giving up. Most people who smoke want to quit smoking, this is a helpful way to remind people to make plan. We know it takes most people multiple attempts before they quit for good.

What is the biggest misconception about smokers and tobacco users?

Over the past two decades, we have worked to correct many misconceptions surrounding tobacco. I remember when I first started, the idea among parents was “I’d rather my children smoke than do drugs”. Thankfully, this is no longer the case. Over time, we have successfully shown how damaging and addictive smoking and tobacco is.

I’ve also noticed among lawmakers there is much less pushback on the science around secondhand smoke. When we talk to them and share ideas such as implementing tobacco-free and tobacco-control policies like 100% clean indoor air, they understand and trust the science. But they are still reticent to take action. Our message is that when lawmakers act, they are preventing a whole new generation of addiction.

What are the biggest motivators to quitting?

Most immediately, I think COVID-19 is a major concern and wake-up call to smokers. Family and friends are good motivators, especially if you have kids or grandchildren. Another motivator that often gets overlooked is the power of our peers. If you have coworkers who also smoke, quitting together and having that accountability is extremely helpful.

Over the course of quitting, health improvement starts almost immediately. This is a powerful motivator to stay quit. Taste and smell are some of the first things to return. And smoking is not as socially acceptable as it was in years past, that’s a big motivator to quit.

Beyond the Smokeout, how is the Cancer Action Network promoting tobacco cessation?

What we do primarily is work on legislation and policy. The education of our volunteers and general public has been largely successful. What has eluded us is implementing policies that impact the public. 100% smoke-free policies both in public places and in workplaces save a lot of lives. Period. These policies encourage adults to quit and keep youth from starting tobacco.

I always use my father as an example of why smoke-free policies in the workplace are important. He used to smoke three packs a day, mostly in his office, which lacked a smoke-free policy. He eventually quit, but his health was so bad at that point he was beyond recovery. Toward the end, he said, “I wish I would have taken better care of myself.” If you’re a worker and your workplace becomes smoke-free, it helps you quit. And it helps people from starting.

About the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline

Since 2003, more than 450,000 Oklahomans have used the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline’s resources. In addition to tips and resources online, the Helpline provides FREE services including text and email support and free patches, gum or lozenges. Additionally, quit coaches are available 24/7 to assist in creating a customized quit plan. The Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline offers judgment-free help, including quit coaching and free patches, gum or lozenges, to Oklahoma tobacco users looking to make a change.

In addition, the Helpline has partnered with My Life, My Quit to provide quit services to teens. The My Life, My Quit program is a text-based service to help youth quit tobacco, including vaping.

TSET will launch a new education campaign for My Life, My Quit in the coming weeks, which will run through the holidays. This campaign, “End the Cycle,” will target teens in Oklahoma ages 13-17 who are currently vaping nicotine and want to quit. The main message of the campaign is that, “Nicotine addiction can take control and My Life, My Quit can make it easier to stop.”

Call 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visit to explore all the free services and resources available to Oklahomans.

Published by Tobacco Stops With Me on November 20, 2020