Great American Smokeout came and went in a puff of smoke |

Great American Smokeout came and went in a puff of smoke

The ashtrays were still full at the casinos Thursday, as the Great American Smokeout Day came and went in a puff of smoke.

Unfazed smokers who refused to join the 40 million who have succeeded at quitting provided a variety of responsesas to why they blew off the American Cancer Society-sponsored annual event. Their comments range from “I was supposed to quit,” to “I’ve been smoking too many years to give it up.”

Cigarette smoking is so pervasive in Nevada that the state recently knocked out tobacco-growing Kentucky for the top spot in number of smokers, according to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Embassy Suites bartender Matt Colorado said he has to remind smokers every day to please light up outside, when they reach for cigarettes.

“I tell them they’re in California,” Colorado said. Nevada’s bordering state banned smoking in bars almost two years ago.

An estimated 48 million U.S. adults currently smoke and about half will die prematurely from smoking, according to the American Cancer Society.

Even with those statistics, the reasons not to quit abound.

“Being completely honest, I’d like to, but with the added stress of finals and everyday life, I’d like to wait until it’s a little less hectic,” said Heath Jorgensen, a student. He was smoking outside the front entrance of Lake Tahoe Community College.

The 19-year-old South Lake Tahoe man said smoking is an excuse to take a break and a reason for conversation with other smokers.

Standing a few feet away, Bruno Dilonardo, 37, said he continues to smoke, even though it hinders his track and field events.

“It’s one of my last vices, and it’s legal, cheap and portable, and you can still handle heavy machinery,” said Dilonardo, who strongly objects to any kind of governmental restriction of the habit.

Smoking has split up Beth Jensen’s family in more ways than one.

The 24-year-old South Lake Tahoe woman, who was enjoying a cigarette in front of Albertson’s Wednesday, said she wouldn’t quit for the smokeout, but her sister quit a day early.

“I think this time I’m very stubborn,” Jensen’s sister Lisa Payne said Thursday, between cups of tea.

However, the big decision hasn’t been easy.

On Thursday, Payne complained of having the shakes – a withdrawal symptom, and had to endure enjoying her coffee without her morning cigarette. The night before was spent tossing and turning in bed between bouts with vertigo and weird, morbid dreams she interpreted as premonitions.

Two years ago, she and Jensen lost their grandmother to cancer as a result of smoking.

Payne and her husband’s children, ages 4, 7, 9 and 16, have placed a lot of pressure on mom to quit, she said. They even came home to remind her of the Great American Smokeout Day.

“I have a lot to live for,” said Payne, who started smoking seven years ago at age 18.

She said quitting has been especially hard on her husband, Richard, who started 20 years ago, when he was 15 years old.

When they ran out of cigarettes on Wednesday, the couple decided this would be the day.

“We kind of planned it that way. We actually both wanted to quit,” she said, agreeing it takes more a day to accomplish the feat. Then again, she used the old Alcoholics Anonymous adage to maintain her strength – “one day at a time.”

Smoking is not reserved to adults. More than 6,000 youth try smoking each day, with most beginning between the ages of 10 to 18, the cancer society reported.

“The kids rate (of quitting) stays the same each year. It doesn’t go up or down,” said Betsy Tapper, El Dorado County health educator. “Thirty to 35 percent take it up as freshmen, when they first start making decisions for themselves for the first time.”

The public health department is putting on a smoking cessation class at the El Dorado County Library from noon to 1 p.m. Monday to help those who want to give it up. The educator discusses how smoking can lead to other complications like hypothermia and depression.

South Tahoe High School will also hold smoking cessation sessions on Monday and Tuesday in Health class. The school took part in the Great American Smokeout Day, with about 25 students signing up in the quad at noon to pledge to either give up smoking or never start, said vice principal Mark Romagnola.

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