Thursday is the Great American Smokeout.

If you smoke, this is your day. Join thousands of people across the country who won’t smoke on Thursday. It can be the first step toward a smoke-free life.

Quitting is hard. I know from personal experience. I smoked from about age 15 until I became pregnant with my first child — when I was 34. My unborn child’s health was the motivation I needed to finally kick the habit. (I’d tried and failed three times.) I was smoking a pack-and-a-half a day. I was a dedicated smoker — totally addicted to nicotine.

Honestly, quitting was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done — even harder than giving birth to that baby who inspired me to do it. The first three days without cigarettes were the hardest part. The cravings were awful.

But quitting was far and away the best thing I’ve ever done for my health and the health of my family. Today, 28 years later, I can’t even imagine myself smoking.

If you want to quit, the first thing you need to do is realize that nicotine is a highly addictive substance. If you’ve been smoking for a while, chances are you’re addicted to it.

A friend of mine got involved in the Nicotine Anonymous program and gave me a book about overcoming nicotine addiction. One thing from that book still sticks with me all these years later: “I’m a puff away from a pack a day.” I know this to be true. If I were to light a cigarette today, I think I’d go buy a pack — still, after all these years. Well, as soon as I stopped coughing and gagging, anyway.

Thursday can be your first day of freedom from this dirty and dangerous addiction. You can increase your chances of success with help. Getting help through counseling and medications doubles or even triples your chances of quitting successfully, the experts tell us.

Suffolk County runs an effective smoking cessation program called “Learn to Be…Tobacco Free.” The free six-week program is coming back to Riverhead in just a couple weeks. It will be held at Riverhead Free Library, 330 Court Street on Thursdays, Dec. 5 and 19, Jan. 2, 9, 16 and 23. (Contact: Linda at 631-853-3187)

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 34 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, and smoking remains the single largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world. Smoking causes an estimated 480,000 deaths every year, or about 1 in 5 deaths. And more than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease.

But I’m not telling you anything new. You’ve heard it all before. You’ve probably talked yourself out of quitting in a dozen different ways. Like I said: I know from personal experience.

I also know how much better you’re going to feel just a few days after that first smoke-free day. And how you’ll feel like a new person after a month. And how after a couple of months smoke-free, you’ll be able to smell a smoke 50 feet away. It will become a repulsive odor to you — the way you carry a repulsive odor with you right now, without even realizing it.

But really the best part will be not hacking up your lungs every morning and being able to run up a flight of stairs again without getting winded and, most of all, knowing that you’ve improved your health, the air in your home and the health of the people you live with.

You know, there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Even brief exposure can cause immediate harm. Secondhand smoke can cause pneumonia, bronchial and respiratory infections, ear infections, new cases of asthma in infants and children, and is a known cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It is responsible for between 10,000 and 15,000 hospitalizations of children each year.

And on top of all these health benefits, think of what you can do with all that extra cash!

You’ve got this.

Coming up this week:

There’s a steak dinner honoring veterans Thursday at Riverhead Polish Hall. The event, which starts at 6 p.m. is open to all. Tickets are $20 per person.

Riverhead Blue Masques presents “A Chorus Line” next weekend at Riverhead High School. Curtain is at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $10.

The 33rd annual Harvest Gospel Concert series takes place next weekend with performances on Friday at 8 p.m. at Mattituck Presbyterian Church on Main Road in Mattituck and on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Friendship Baptist Church on Anchor Street in Riverside. Suggested donation: $10.

Soprano Emily Cedriana Donato performs on Saturday, Nov. 23 at the Jamesport Meeting House. 4 p.m. A reception with the musicians will follow the performance. Admission is free and open to the public, but donations are encouraged.

The Riverhead Holiday Light Show opens Friday at Long Island Sports Park. The drive-through light show takes place Thursday-Sunday through Dec. 29, and daily Dec. 22-28.

Check out the RiverheadLOCAL community calendar for details on what’s happening in Riverhead. It’s comprehensive and user-friendly.

Is your organization planning an event the community should know about? Submit your event listing here and we’ll post it on our calendar. It’s easy and free.

Here’s the lineup of government meetings in Riverhead this week:

Monday, Nov. 18
Anti-Bias Task Force, 5:30 p.m. 60 Shade Tree Lane, Aquebogue

Tuesday, Nov. 19
Town Board, Riverhead Town Hall, 200 Howell Ave., 6 p.m.

Thursday, Nov. 21
Town board work session, Riverhead Town Hall, 10 a.m.
Planning Board, Riverhead Town Hall, 3 p.m.

Stay on top of what’s coming up in government meetings, hearings and the like. Bookmark our searchable Public Notices page to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Editor’s note: The BIDMA meeting was previously rescheduled to Nov. 13 and incorrectly listed here as scheduled for Nov. 12

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.