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November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Smoking is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer. Even people who do not smoke but are exposed to second-hand smoke are at risk for lung cancer.

The healthiest choice is to never smoke at all. But even if you have smoked for years, there are health benefits to quitting now.

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As a smoking cessation counselor, I find that my clients are surprised to learn that some of the health benefits happen quickly. Here are the facts from the American Cancer Society (cancer.org):

· 20 minutes after quitting smoking: Heart rate and blood pressure start to return to a lower level

· After 12 hours: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.

· After 2 weeks to 3 months: Your circulation improves.

· After 1 to 9 months: Lungs begin to regain normal function. There is less coughing and shortness of breath.

· After 1 year: Heart attack risk drops; heart disease risk is about half that of someone who smokes.

· 2 to 5 years after quitting: Risk of stroke can be as low as that of a non-smoker.

· 5 years after quitting: Risk of some cancers (mouth, throat, esophagus) is cut in half.

· 10 years after quitting: Risk of dying of lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking.

It's never too late to quit smoking and improve your health!

Are you ready to quit? Have you tried to quit in the past and want to begin again?

The Carroll County Health Department has free help available! We offer individual counseling to help you quit using tobacco. Participants may be eligible to receive vouchers to cover the cost of nicotine replacement patches, gum or lozenges; or vouchers to cover part of the cost of Chantix (with a prescription from your doctor). Call 410-876-4429 or 410-876-4443 to schedule an appointment.

Two walk-in clinics are available every month. No appointment is necessary for the walk-in clinics.

· First Wednesday of the month at Access Carroll, 10 Distillery Drive, Westminster, 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

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· Third Thursday of the month at the Carroll County Health Department, 290 S. Center Street, Westminster, 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Visit our website for more information: https://cchd.maryland.gov. For text or web-based support, go to http://smokingstopshere.com.

Anne Grauel, M.P.H., is a community health educator with the Carroll County Health Department, Cigarette Restitution Fund Program.

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