How to become a former tobacco user

"I have to hide smoking from my kids," Jon, a resident of Camp Verde, says. "They're disgusted by it. It's a disgusting habit, I admit, but I've been smoking my whole life. I'd like to quit. I've quit a bunch of times. But ... I'm not ready. I have to go outside to smoke. My kids get mad if they find my cigarettes- they throw them away, they've grabbed 'em out of my hand and broken them in half. They dig through my stuff to find my cigarettes. I'm almost 50, and hiding from my kids like I'm a teenager doing something illicit."

Middle schoolers in Yavapai County were entertained in Teen Maze this year by a three-foot long cigarette labeled Tarlboro, the "ash" a gray silky material printed with a long list of chemicals contained along with the addictive ingredient (nicotine). The kids were surprised that a burning cigarette emits more than 7,000 chemicals.

They're surprised that schools used to have smoking areas, and that "chew and vapes" also contain the nicotine and chemicals less obvious than in old-school cigs.

They recoil from a bottle of yellowish milky substance representing mucous and another container of sluggish black slime representing the amount of tar in the diseased lungs of a long term smoker.

They learn about "popcorn lung" caused by many of the enticing flavors in e-cigarettes, and that third-hand smoke is what settles on (and rises from) pets, carpeting and furniture.

The benefits of smoking cessation are immense, even for individuals who aren't yet experiencing symptoms of disease. Along with the enjoyment of taste and smells returning, other benefits include:

• Twenty minutes after quitting: Heart rate and blood pressure decreases. Temperature of hands and feet normalize.

• Eight hours after quitting: Carbon monoxide level in the blood normalizes.

• Two weeks to three months after quitting: Blood circulation improves; lung function increases as much as 30 percent.

• One to nine months after quitting: Coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue and shortness of breath decrease; cilia regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs and reduce infection.

• One year after quitting: Excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker.

• Five years after quitting: Stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker five to 15 years after quitting.

• Ten years after quitting: Lung cancer death rate is about half that of a continuing smoker; risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, cervix, bladder and pancreas decrease.

• Fifteen years after quitting: Risk of coronary heart disease is equal to that of a nonsmoker.

Cottonwood City Council made Arizona history by being the first municipality to pass "T-21," the new ordinance prohibiting purchase or use of tobacco products by anyone under age 21 (ninety percent of those smoking today began the habit before age 21).

Leading up to the unanimous passing vote, hearings included testimony from Yavapai Anti-Tobacco Coalition of Youth members.

One 16-year-old YATCY member read a letter from her mother, describing how she began smoking at an early age, decades of struggling to quit, and finally experiencing a whole year tobacco-free, inspired by her daughter's involvement in the anti-tobacco group.

The mother happily enthused in her letter that "my skin, hair and nails look so much better!" after she stopped smoking.

Today, many more young people have the knowledge to never become a former tobacco user. For those still smoking, plenty of free help exists outside of the cold-turkey approach. Federal government requires each state to provide quitline services.

Yavapai County holds in-depth classes focusing on cessation tools such as breathing techniques and alternatives to medication in the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program.

To be included on a future class list, email virginia.rodriquez@yavapai.us.

Verde Valley Medical Center offers an eight-session in-person "Freedom From Smoking" program. Contact Pamela Diffin in Respiratory at 928-639-5391.

Saving lives such as Jon's is achievable through knowledge, skills, resources and follow up support. Jon's kids could register to become trained, effective, certified helpers and receive free self-paced training through Helpers Learning to Help Others Quit Tobacco. Rather than shaming Dad, they could help him break free of tobacco addiction without breaking his "cancer sticks" and causing him to slink around outside the house in the dark smoky night- or exposing them to his embarrassment and secondhand smoke.

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