Unplug the vaping devices and stub the cigarette butts. Thursday is the American Cancer Society’s 44th annual Great American Smokeout — a day set aside each year to encourage smokers to kick the habit.

In fact, smoking is still the single largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world and more than 34 million Americans are smokers. According to ACS data, an estimated 1 in 5 deaths — or 480,000 — each year are smoking-related. In Kentucky, tobacco is responsible for close to 9,000 deaths annually.

Over a 52-year period from 1965 to 2017 the cigarette smoking rate dropped significantly from 42% to 14%. However, experts are quick to warn that e-cigarette use is at epidemic levels — especially for teens, with about 27.5%, or more than 1 in 4, high school students currently vaping.

Coincidentally this year’s Great American Smokeout falls just a day after the American Medical Association called for an immediate ban on all electronic cigarette and vaping devices. The doctors’ group pointed to the 42 Americans who have died and 2,100 who were diagnosed with vaping-related lung illnesses as the reasons behind its sweeping stance.

“It’s simple. We must keep nicotine products out of the hands of young people,” Dr. Patrice Harris, AMA president, said, citing the surge in teen e-cigarette usage.

The AMA plans to lobby for federal and state regulations in order to achieve the ban. But the vaping industry won’t likely go down without a fight.

In the meantime, the ACS is calling on the state legislature to adequately fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs to deter Kentucky youth from taking the first puff and help ensure those who smoke have access to programs to help them quit.

We realize giving up nicotine is difficult and takes time. It doesn’t happen in one day and requires an action plan. For help quitting, visit the Great American Smokeout website or call 1-800-227-2345.

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