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Breaking the habit

Whether it’s nicotine gum, cinnamon-flavored toothpicks or quit-smoking classes, smokers have more tools than ever to help kick the habit.

Experts from AllCare Health were at the organization’s Medford office to offer information, quit-smoking aids and healthy snacks during the Great American Smokeout on Thursday. People who turned in nicotine products received free gift cards from Dutch Bros.

During the annual Great American Smokeout, people across the nation are encouraged to quit tobacco for the day and make a pledge to quit entirely, or to help a friend or family member quit.

Joy Kilishek, tobacco cessation coordinator for AllCare Health, said the body has an amazing power to start healing itself, even after years of exposure to the toxin and carcinogen-filled smoke of cigarettes.

“Your body actually starts to heal itself 20 minutes after you quit smoking,” she said.

After those 20 minutes, blood pressure drops, the heart rate slows and the temperature in the hands and feet rises as circulation improves, according to AllCare, which provides health insurance for many Southern Oregonians on the Oregon Health Plan.

The risk of heart attack and stroke is lower after just one day, and in two days, nerve endings begin to regenerate.

In one to nine months, ex-smokers experience less coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue and shortness of breath. Damaged cilia — the fine, hair-like structures in the respiratory system — regrow and help clear mucus, microbes and debris from the airways.

At the five year mark, the risk of lung, mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney and pancreas cancer is down.

When ex-smokers have 15 years under their belts, their risk of coronary heart disease and stroke is equal to non-smoker levels.

To start on the path to becoming a non-smoker, Kilishek recommends nicotine-replacement products, which boost the chances of quitting for good.

Smokers should think of tobacco addiction as having three links.

“It’s the nicotine that we’re addicted to, but it’s also our routine, and it’s an emotional part of our lives,” Kilishek said.

Powerfully addictive, nicotine causes people to feel anxious, agitated and unable to focus when they are craving their next cigarette. Smoking offers only a temporary fix until the cravings start up again for another cigarette, according to AllCare.

When smokers try to quit, they may experience cold or flu-like withdrawal symptoms, such as headache, cough, sore throat, postnasal drip and digestive issues. Other symptoms include insomnia, irritability, fatigue, tightness in the chest and an inability to concentrate, AllCare said.

Many insurers, including AllCare, cover nicotine-replacement products that ease withdrawal symptoms.

Kilishek said smoking is often linked to people’s daily routines, with people feeling the urge to smoke when they get in a car or after eating, leaving work or a store or while talking on the phone.

She urges people to replace smoking with something else to keep themselves occupied. That could be taking a walk, chewing on cinnamon-flavored toothpicks, twiddling a pen, drinking water, deep breathing, taking a shower or talking about the desire to smoke with a supportive person.

When driving, put cigarettes and lighters in the trunk to avoid temptation and break the link between driving and smoking, Kilishek said.

Urges will often pass in 3 to 5 minutes if those trying to quit delay smoking, she said.

“Do something to keep yourself busy while you’re going through that urge,” Kilishek said.

As for the emotional component of nicotine addiction, smokers often feel triggered to smoke in both positive and negative situations. They may reach for a cigarette when under stress or to celebrate good news, according to AllCare.

Kilishek said cigarettes not only impact the health of smokers, but friends and family members who breathe in smoke or who are exposed to toxins that accumulate in clothes, furniture, carpet, car upholstery and other materials.

Kami Sussman, maternal/child health advocate for AllCare, said smoking while pregnant can lead to low birth weight, premature birth and long-term developmental problems for babies and children.

“Even if mom doesn’t smoke, being around smokers can have the same effect on babies,” Sussman said.

She said pregnant women can use many quit-smoking aids. They should consult with their doctors about which products are best for them.

AllCare is creating added incentives to help pregnant clients quit by offering vouchers to its Babe Store when women take quit-smoking classes and go to doctor appointments. The store at AllCare’s Medford office has baby clothes, diapers, wipes, breastfeeding supplies, toothbrushes, potty-training supplies, sippy cups and more.

The store is open to women receiving Oregon Health Plan coverage through AllCare, and their babies and toddlers up to age 3 can also earn vouchers from pediatrician visits.

The entire community is welcome to attend free quit-smoking classes Kilishek leads from 1 to 2 p.m. on Mondays in the Jackson County Health and Human Services building, 140 S. Holly St., Medford.

“We’re here to support the community be healthier and just happier,” Kilishek said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

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