Today is the 35th anniversary of the Great American Smokeout, now held annually on the third Thursday of November. On this day, smokers are encouraged to quit, even if just for 24 hours, in the hopes that many of them will decide to make it a permanent lifestyle change.

What continually amazes me is the number of people who start smoking each year. With all the research compiled over the past four decades, how can any person with half a brain want to roll the dice with his/her health by lighting up? (Even in my youth, we called them cancer sticks.)

When I taught 4th grade, our school participated in the D.A.R.E. program: Drug Abuse Resistance Education. A police officer came in and presented 10 weeks of lessons to help kids resist peer pressure and other influences concerning, among other things, tobacco smoking, alcohol use, inhalants and drug abuse.

The loosely paraphrased D.A.R.E. definition of a drug is “any substance that significantly alters the functioning of the mind or body.” Which, as my astute 4th graders pointed out, includes not only alcohol, nicotine, and the usual assortment of pharmaceutical drugs (legal or otherwise), but also caffeine, as in the ever-present diet Pepsi sitting on my desk.

Busted. They were absolutely right. So to prove a point, I dramatically poured the remainder of the can of pop down the sink.

Over the next four days, my constant raging headache was enough to blur my vision. By the end of the week, my students were begging me to drink a caffeinated soda or have a cup of coffee. The evidence was clear: If you think caffeine is not a drug, try quitting it.

Although I did quit caffeine for a number of years, I am now in the process of weaning away from it again. A little is fine, dependency is not. The same for sugar. And yes, I know “the holidays” are coming…

If you’re a smoker, you already know the benefits of quitting far outweigh the health hazards of not trying again. So let’s do it together… One day at a time.