Thursday, Nov. 21, marks the Great American Smokeout, sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

This annual event encourages people to stop using tobacco for the day and to make plans to quit. The Great American Smokeout coincides with Tobacco Awareness Week this week -- a time to talk about the harm of tobacco use both to users and non-users as well as raising awareness of the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Approximately 80 percent of Iowa adults and 82 percent of Iowa high school students have chosen not to smoke.

"The majority of people are making safe choices. It's our job to continue helping 100 percent of Iowa residents--especially youth--make responsible choices and get the resources they need to either never start using tobacco or quit using it. You can help by promoting the Great American Smokeout and Tobacco Awareness Week or by joining your local county coalition," said Tessa Willie, tobacco prevention coordinator for Helping Services for Northeast Iowa.

This month, free "quit kits" are available to smokers, or share with a tobacco user. The kit includes tobacco facts, a guide to quitting and information on Quitline Iowa services. They are available at Donlon Health Mart and Thrifty White Pharmacy in Decorah; Hoines Health Mart and Medicap Pharmacy in Cresco; Schuchmann's Health Mart Pharmacy in Oelwein; Scott's Pharmacy in Fayette; Steege Pharmacy and Union Drug in West Union; and Hartig Drug in Waukon.

"Quitting has benefits, no matter how long you have used tobacco," Willie said.

Quitting tobacco coaching services are available 24 hours a day from Quitline over the phone, 1-800-QUIT NOW, or quitlineiowa.org.

"Increase your chances to quit successfully. Research shows phone coaching is twice as effective as smokers trying to quit on their own. If you don't use tobacco, pass this information on to a friend," Willie said.

The Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors with members of ERASE (Everyone Raising Awareness on Substance Abuse Education) signed a proclamation declaring this week "Tobacco Awareness Week" in Winneshiek County.

"If everyone, from youth to adults, works together, we can build a tobacco-free community, nation, and world," Willie said.

To connect with a county coalition or a high school youth group, contact Willie at Helping Services, 563-387-1720.

For 40 years, Helping Services for Northeast Iowa has been promoting the health and wellbeing of children and adults. The agency works to end domestic violence and child abuse; build healthy families, friendships and relationships; and reinforce positive decision-making about alcohol, tobacco and other drug use. Staff members provide presentations, research-based programs, trainings and advocacy to work with community members in creating safe, nurturing and healthy environments.