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Everyone loves a quitter: throw away those cigarettes

No Smoking Day is the ideal time to throw away your cigarettes for good. Marie Foy speaks to three people who dumped the evil weed

In this go-getting age it’s not often you’ll hear someone say they’re proud to be a quitter, but when it comes to giving up smoking it certainly can count as a boast, it seems.

Indeed, Proud to be a Quitter is the theme for this year’s No Smoking Day, and to mark the annual event today, Cancer Focus Northern Ireland is calling on all smokers to make this the day they stub out the habit for good.

In Northern Ireland, 22% of the adult population smokes but statistics show that smokers are four times more likely to stop if they get help. Cancer Focus NI has been providing support for more than 40 years, consistently achieving a 68% quit rate in four weeks.

“Over the years we’ve motivated thousands of local people to beat this addiction,” says Judith West, the charity’s cancer prevention officer. “Our stop smoking specialists give advice on medication and tips on how to break the habit.

“We look at overcoming the fear of quitting, coping with cravings, managing stress, avoiding weight gain and adjusting to a better lifestyle through confidential weekly one-to-ones over 12 weeks.”

The charity says that smoking is by far the most preventable cause of cancer, as it accounts for more than one in four cancer deaths and nearly a third of all cancer cases.

“Giving up is the most important thing you can do to improve your health,” says Ms West. “The benefits are enormous — just 20 minutes after your last cigarette your blood pressure and pulse return to normal. It’s better for your looks and your wallet too.”

As others try their hand at stubbing out their smoking habit for good, we speak to a number of local people who have already managed to beat the evil weed.

Teenager Rachel Armstrong, from Belfast, started smoking when she was just 10 years old. She says:

"I had a few older friends who smoked and that's where I got my first cigarette. Some family members smoked too, so I suppose I didn't think it was such a big deal. I also liked the smell, which seems really strange now. I didn't smoke much at the start, just the odd one, but it gradually got worse. By the time I was 13 or 14, I was smoking up to 20 a day.

My parents were suspicious but if they smelled smoke around me I'd say I'd been with friends who smoked. One time my mum found 10 cigarettes in my room and she broke down and cried. I felt terrible.

Then I met Doreen Regan - she works for Cancer Focus NI and came to my school to help pupils who wanted to quit.

I told my parents after that and I'm glad I did - they are right behind me and that helps a lot.

They were more relieved I was stopping than anything else.

The work Cancer Focus NI does with schools is great and really gave me the confidence and the final push I needed to give up. It's also good for students who feel they can't tell their parents that they're smoking.

Doreen gave me tips on how to cut down and stop, and told me all about Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), including patches and gum.

I've tried to quit lots of times but it never worked. This time I started by cutting down for a few weeks and finally stopped on January 27.

The main reason I wanted to stop was for my health. My aunt was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, even though she stopped smoking nine years ago, and my grandad, who died two years ago, had COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

I was starting to feel out of breath compared to some of my friends, I could smell the smoke in my hair, on my clothes and on my fingers, I had a smoker's cough when I woke up - it was disgusting. As soon as I got any pocket money I was off to the shops to buy cigarettes. Now I can save up and buy myself a new top or make-up, which I enjoy a lot more."

Malachai O'Hara, from north Belfast, is health and wellbeing services manager for the Rainbow Project, Ireland’s largest organisation working on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender people (LGB&/T). He says:

"My big motivation for stopping smoking is that my boyfriend, Michael McCartan, and I want to have a family and raise our children in a healthy smoke-free home.

I had the odd cigarette from the age of 13 or 14, and then regularly smoked from 16. My dad and older brother smoked, so I think that played a part in making it less of a taboo.

Initially smoking was a distraction when I was coming to terms with my sexual orientation. I felt quite isolated and there was very little support or awareness at the time. I also smoked to impress my peers and help me fit in. Dealing with those issues was more important than worrying about the damage I was doing to my health.

By the time I was at university, I was smoking around 20 a day. I really loved that sense of relaxation when I first inhaled. On the downside, I hated the taste in my mouth each morning and the smell from my clothes and body. It made me feel less healthy and I didn’t like being addicted to something I knew was bad for me.

I realised it was an addiction around my late teens, but I thought of smoking as a temporary thing that I would stop one day. I didn’t expect it would go on for 20 years! I always said I would give up at 30. I tried but wasn’t successful so I committed myself to quitting when I was 35.

When the Cancer Focus NI stop smoking team came to our workplace last year I signed up for their 12-week course. I found it extremely helpful — you have to want to quit yourself, but it focuses your mind when you have to check in with someone each week. And it’s also good to be able to talk over your anxieties and concerns.

I’d advise smokers to go to a support group, persevere and try a range of methods — eventually you will find a support that works for you. Now, I feel a lot fitter, I’ve lost my wheeze and my sense of smell is better.”

Orla Hillick, a finance officer from Belfast, has just celebrated four years without cigarettes. She says:

"Since the age of 11 I’d been smoking — everyone else was doing it and it was the ‘in’ thing at that time. I was smoking about five a day but as I got older this soon rose to 20 a day. If I was out socialising I could easily get through two packs without really thinking about it.

I’d made a couple of half-hearted attempts at stopping smoking before but after a few months I started again. Although I always hoped that one day I’d be a non-smoker, I just didn’t seem to have the willpower to stop.

In the few years before I finally quit, I’d become increasingly aware of my health and the damage I was doing to it because of my smoking. I have three daughters and a gorgeous five-year-old granddaughter, Ava, and I realised that I wanted to see them grow up.

I wanted to have the energy to enjoy life with them, and not be out of breath just by walking up the stairs.

It wasn’t until I’d gone away for the weekend with my sister and a friend and they’d both given up smoking that I thought ‘This is it!’.

I smoked my last cigarette that morning, February 20, 2011. When I got back from the weekend, I went to see my doctor and got patches to help me with my cravings.

Since then I haven’t had a single cigarette. I sometimes crave one, but I know that in a couple of minutes that will pass and I’m so proud of finally being able to say that I don’t smoke any more.”

Top tips to stub it out for good 

If you’re finding it hard to get started on quitting cigarettes, here are some of Cancer Focus NI’s top tips:

  • Talk to Cancer Focus NI, your GP, nurse, pharmacist or any health professional
  • Get pharmacotherapies such as patches, gum or tablets, if needed
  • Join one of Cancer Focus NI’s free, confidential and informal weekly stop smoking support services, funded by the PHA
  • Write down all the reasons you want to stop and stick it on the fridge to help you stay motivated
  • Talk to your friends, family and workmates — support from them is essential
  • Get your friends to quit with you and keep each other motivated
  • Get information on local services and advice on www.want2stop.info and order a free Quit Kit
  • For more information about Cancer Focus NI stop smoking services, tel: 028 9066 3281, email: behealthy@cancerfocusni.org or visit www.cancerfocusni.org
  • No Smoking Day is coordinated in Northern Ireland by Cancer Focus NI, the Public Health Agency (PHA) and the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Northern Ireland, who are all members of the local No Smoking Day Coordinating Group

Sign-up for free programme

The determination to stay healthy and active for his three-year-old son convinced IT worker and keen golfer Lee Cummings (39), from Donaghadee, to join the programme. He says:

Dylan is starting to grow up fast and I want to be able to do things such as play football and golf with him.

The past two months since I’ve stopped smoking have been incredible. I feel 100% better and find it much easier to walk around a hilly golf course.

I had been smoking 10-15 cigarettes since I was 19 and had tried and failed to stop last year.

I went cold turkey, without any nicotine replacement therapy or outside support, and unfortunately started smoking again.

Just after Christmas, I decided to give stopping another go and joined the Smoking Cessation Programme in Gordons Chemists.

I was given lots of advice and encouragement, as well as nicotine patches which were brilliant at taking the edge off the cravings.

The first month was fine, but there have been a few times I’ve been tempted. However, I haven’t given in and that’s down to the support of the Gordons Chemists pharmacists.

It’s much more convenient than going to my GP or surgery clinic. Because Gordons have stores all over the province, I was able to sign up in a branch near to where I work and could go along once a week, at a time that suited me, to collect my patches have my progress monitored and receive encouragement and support.

Thanks to Gordons, I’m feeling really positive about the future and confident that this time, I’ve given up smoking for good.

Also joining the campaign to help smokers give up the habit today are community pharmacies across Northern Ireland — including all 50 branches of leading independent chain Gordons Chemists — who are now offering a free 12-week smoking cessation programme.

Part of a NHS initiative that provides counselling and support in community pharmacies, Gordons Chemists offers personal, individually-tailored support, advice and where suitable, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), from specially trained staff.

We speak to two people who credit the programme with helping them give up cigarettes for good.

Three years ago, mum-of-three Lisa Doyle (33) from Newcastle, successfully quit her 30-a-day habit after joining the programme. She says:

I had been a smoker since I was in my teens and had tried to stop many times before without success.

My children Amy (17), Reece (12) and Leah (9) had been nagging me to quit for some time as they had been learning about the dangers of smoking at school. I also knew of a girl who was suffering from severe lung problems and that really scared me.

I had heard about the Smoking Cessation Programme from friends and one day when I was in the Gordons Chemist Railway Street store doing some shopping I got chatting to pharmacist Teresa McCaughley and decided to give it a go there and then.

It was tough, but being on the programme really focused my mind on stopping for good and it was great to have Teresa encouraging and supporting me.

Because I would always be in and out of the store for toiletries and make-up, I knew all the staff really well and found the programme had a more personal touch and was less intimidating than going to my GP or health clinic.

It was like meeting a good friend every week and having them keep you motivated and determined.

Initially, I started on nicotine patches, which eased the cravings and an inhalator, which was really helpful when I was out socialising.

I noticed a difference in my health very quickly. Before I stopped, I had started getting breathless going up and down the stairs. Now I have started running in the mountains, something I would never have been able to do before!”

For more information about Gordons Chemists Smoking Cessation Programme call in to your local store or visit www.gordonsdirect.com

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