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Great American Smokeout led by Mr. Potato Head

By PATRICIA McCORMACK, United Press International

Smokers swapped cigarettes for apples, children launched balloons carrying anti-smoking messages and Mr. Potato Head gave up his pipe Thursday during the 11th annual Great American Smokeout.

Organizers predicted 20 million nicotine addicts would give up their habit for 24 hours ending at midnight Thursday, and results of a Gallup poll to be available next week will show whether that goal was achieved, American Cancer Society Vice President Irving Rimer said.

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'If we make 20 million, the Smokeout will be considered a success,' he said. Last year, a similar survey showed 23 million took part in the smokeout, but Rimer said there are 4 million fewer smokers nationwide this year.

Organizers of the smokeout -- the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the U.S. Public Health Service -- credited the annual event with contributing to the decline.

Rimer said studies have shown that 20 percent of those who quit on Smokeout day go on to kick the habit for good.

Those findings dovetail with the success rates of stop-smoking clinics and other such programs.

The undisputed Smokeout star this year was Mr. Potato Head, the 35-year-old kiddy toy. Hasbro, maker of the toy, agreed to eliminate Mr. Potato Head's pipe from the toy's assembly kit.

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A lifesize Mr. Potato Head warmed up the nation to the smokeout Tuesday by surrendering a huge pipe to Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in a media stunt beamed by television into living rooms across the country.

Images of Mr. Potato Head showed up on posters on smokeout rallies across the county, and another Mr. Potato clone accepted an award at Harvard University for abandoning a habit that could make him sick and shorten his life.

Not everyone supported Smokeout. Philip Morris U.S.A. passed out Great American Smoker's kits containing stickers that read, 'I Smoke and I Vote' and 'Don't Nag Me - I'm a Great American Smoker.'

However, apples provided by U.S. Healthcare, an East Coast health maintenance organization, were given to smokers who tossed cigarette packs into barrels outside the Philip Morris building in New York City.

In Falls Church, Va., smokers took turns riding a 25-foot ferris wheel, as children serenaded the circling would-be quitters.

In Reno, Calif., children from nine schools launched balloons carrying messages about why people should not smoke, and a victory party in Los Angeleshonored third grader Ken Sprunt, who won the Great American Smokeout bumper sticker contest with the slogan, 'You smoke, you choke, you croak.

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