It’s news to me: National Smoking Awareness Day is March 13. I was aware of something called the National Smokeout on November 16, but apparently, given how stubborn tobacco addiction is, we needed another day to get folks to pay attention.

Anyway, here’s an article on the importance of (and challenges inherent in) smoking cessation.

Why it’s so hard to quit smoking — and how to boost your odds of stopping for good

If you’ve been a regular smoker for some time, chances are the main reason you stick with it, despite the expense and health risks involved, is plain old addiction. That includes withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and that weird collection of smoking-related habits and behaviors that have emerged over time, through sheer repetition.

Such as having a cigarette with your morning coffee. Or following a meal. When you need to relax, or to reduce feelings of discomfort during periods of stress. Those are just some of the motives cited by smokers.

Before I quit smoking, I would have said that all I required was the passage of 20 minutes since the last cigarette. That’s when withdrawal peaked. Since the most effective  way to relieve cigarette withdrawal is to smoke another cigarette, it feels like the natural thing to do.

Understandably, there’s a real incentive for science or business to come up with an easier, softer alternative to giving up cigarettes, as opposed to the time-tested method of simply stopping. After all, stopping is uncomfortable.  Most smokers would rather not, if they didn’t absolutely have to.

Couldn’t someone come up with another option? Less harmful than tobacco, perhaps, but one that allows us to continue feeding ourselves nicotine?

When I began working in addiction treatment, practically everyone smoked. Most of the clean and sober folks at 12 Step meetings were smokers, too, so it was assumed that tobacco smoking was no hazard to sobriety.

It wasn’t until the smoking cessation movement of the late 70’s and the 80’s that rehabs began to restrict and even prohibit smoking. That was largely because of heavily publicized research on second-hand smoke, and its adverse effects on the people around the smoker, including children. That was a more powerful argument than the damage smoking did to the smoker’s own health. Smokers already knew about that, and it hadn’t been enough to motivate them to quit.

The emergence of electronic smoking and vaping were originally intended as a way to help people quit smoking altogether. Results were mixed; most smokers simply transferred their addiction from the cigarette to the vape device. Then some enterprising souls decided to sell the flavored variety of electronic cigarettes to nonsmokers, particularly young ones (including minors), in hopes of turning them into long-term customers for this wholly new form of nicotine addiction.

Fortunes were made, that’s for sure.

(Incidentally, we’ve covered the issue of nicotine addiction and even offered smoking cessation help here before.)

Where we stand now: Per CDC, “Current smoking has declined from 20.9% (nearly 21 of every 100 adults) in 2005 to 11.5% (nearly 12 of every 100 adults) in 2021.” A big improvement, for which we can all be thankful.

Even knowing that nearly 24 million US adults still consider themselves cigarette smokers. I think you’ll agree — we have a long way to go.