MUSKOKA, ON-The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR) is offering advice about the benefits of quitting smoking during National Non-Smoking Week.

During Non-Smoking Week, which ends this Saturday, the HKPR is encouraging local smokers to access the free quit-smoking programs that are available.

Public Health Nurse with the HKPR Karen Taylor said she knows full well that people start to feel better when they quit smoking. “Quitting smoking pays off almost immediately, and the great news is that there are supports and resources close at hand to help you succeed.”

One of these programs is the “Ultimate Break it Off Challenge” for people between the ages of 18 to 29. The challenge has three paths that allow participants to win cash prizes. You can either quit smoking, stay smoke-free or refer/support a friend to quit. The unit encourages you to choose a path that best fits your goals. You can visit the challenge site here before February 6th to enter and win.

Another program involves asking local health care providers for advice, support and resources that will help smokers quit. Family health teams and community health centres can also provide free assistance and free nicotine-replacement products like gum and patches. Contact your local health care provider or family health team for more details.

During Non-Smoking Week, you can also visit your local pharmacist as many are trained to provide support to people who are trying to quit. These professionals can help you identify the best way to ditch smoking, including prescribing the right quitting medications. If you have coverage through the Ontario Drug Benefit, you may also be eligible for free counselling and medication. Contact your local pharmacy for more details.

If you don’t feel like going out, you can call also Telehealth Ontario for a free confidential service that gives health advice. When you call the toll free number at 1-866-797-0000, you can speak to a registered nurse for advice, care and referrals to help you quit smoking.

The last service that is available, is visiting the Smokers’ Helpline website here. This website provides resources and information to people who are trying to quit and also features an online chat room, text messaging service and email support.

Taylor said that when you quit smoking your blood pressure and pulse rate return to normal after 20 minutes of quitting and after 24 hours, the risk of a heart attack starts to drop. Within 14 days of quitting, your circulation increases and the airways in your lungs relax. After one year of being smoke-free, your risk of smoking-related heart disease or stroke is cut in half.