Why don’t these local women stop smoking?

Paula Davison
Sarah McCusker
Orla Hillick celebrates being a year smoke free with granddaughtr Ava.

An estimated one million people will give up cigarettes today, No Smoking Day, but for many it’s a habit which they find hard to kick. Maureen Coleman finds out from some local women

Former X-Factor finalist Stacey Solomon made the headlines this month for all the wrong reasons when she was photographed smoking while seven months pregnant.

The 22-year-old ‘I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here’ winner went from hero to zero in a matter of hours and was stripped of her Celebrity Mum of the Year title. Stacey, who has a four-year-old son called Zachary, admitted she smoked a few cigarettes a day and was finding it difficult to kick the habit. “I've got nothing to justify the fact that I have smoked during my pregnancy,” she later said.

“There's nothing I could ever say to make it right, because I know how much I love my son and my [unborn] child and I wouldn't want to do anything in the whole wide world to harm them.”

The Essex girl was vilified in the Press and angry members of the public took to social networking sites to brand her a disgrace and not fit to be a mum.

It's been a harsh lesson for Stacey to learn but she is not alone in her struggle to give up smoking. In Northern Ireland, almost one quarter of the adult population (24%) smokes and almost a quarter of women here light up every day. According to research carried out by the Ulster Cancer Foundation, over two thirds of those smokers would like the stop.

Today — No Smoking Day — an estimated one million people across the UK are expected to stub out for the last time. But with so much knowledge and information out there about the health risks — smoking accounts for one third of all cancers and kills one in six people in Northern Ireland each year — why do so many women still continue to smoke?

’I will quit but just not yet’

Sarah McCusker, is a 25-year-old social worker from Belfast. She says:

I began smoking when I was 14, out of curiosity more than anything else. I was with a friend when I had my first one. My mum didn't find out for a good while but when she did, she was very disapproving. I remember mum taking the cigarettes off me and grounding me.

I smoked a lot more between the ages of 18 and 23 than I do now. My cigarette of choice would be Regal Kingsize, but because of the price, I smoke Mayfair. I’m down to around five or six a day, though that could change, depending on what type of day I’m having or if I'm socialising.

I definitely smoke more when I'm having a drink. If I had a friend round for a takeaway and a few drinks on a Friday, I could find myself smoking 15, maybe 20.

Then again, there are days when I'd only smoke two or three or none at all. I can go an entire day without smoking, but if I'm absolutely honest, the way I see it is that I'm not a heavy smoker, so I try not to worry about the health implications.

Also, I think that if I tried to give up, I'd end up putting too much pressure on myself and the stress would probably make me smoke more! I can see myself giving them up in the future, particularly if I'm going to have children.

My partner doesn’t smoke, which made it easier for me to reduce the number of cigarettes I smoke. And I never smoke indoors or let anyone smoke in my house. I always stand at the back door.

Even if I'm in a house where there are smokers, I still go out to the back door, out of respect. I know it's not a nice habit, I don't really enjoy it any more. I don't like the taste or the smell. Giving up smoking is something you always think about, like dieting or taking up an exercise regime. So I can see myself doing it at some stage. Just not right now.

‘I started when I was 14’

Paula Davison, (41), is a secretary and lives in Drumbeg. She says:

The first thing I do every morning when I get up is have a cup of tea and light up a cigarette. But the thing is, I don't even enjoy smoking any more. It's just a dirty habit and one that I really want to quit. But it's really tough trying to give them up.

I started smoking when I was just 14. I guess it was peer pressure, everyone was doing it. But by 18 I knew I was hooked. I did try and stop when I was 26, but they were the worst three days of my life. I was grumpy and bad-tempered and felt awful.

In saying that, I'm building up to stopping again. I lost my mum to a brain haemorrhage when she was just 40 and last year a family friend died of lung cancer, so I am well aware of the risks to my health and I don't want to die of cancer.

When I get colds they go straight to my chest and I know that's down to the cigarettes.

There is so much information out there about the dangers of smoking but I'm not sure if the message is getting through.

I see teenage girls smoking all the time. I'd love to tell them to stop. I wish I'd never started smoking but unfortunately I did and it's a terrible habit that's a nightmare to kick. If I'm being brutally honest, I smoke around 30 a day. It's nothing to do with stress. It's just part of my life now.

But for No Smoking Day I am definitely up for not having a fag. And then we'll see how it goes. I'm going to go to the doctor and get proper help.

When I think of what I could be doing to myself, it does scare me, so I know what I have to do.

‘I know they could kill me’

Charlotte Johnston, is a 56-year-old mother-of-three and social care worker from Belfast. She says:

I'm embarrassed to admit that I actually only started smoking when I was 35. A friend ran a fashion boutique in the Park Centre in Belfast and when she went off on maternity, she asked me to cover.

I used to pop into the Bay Leaf restaurant for a coffee, but I didn't feel comfortable sitting there on my own. I just didn't know what to do with my hands. I'm quite shy and just felt a bit awkward, so I went to a wee sweet shop nearby and bought a packet of Menthol More cigarettes. To be honest, they were like a comfort blanket for me. I didn't mind so much sitting there on my own with a coffee and a fag.

Seven months later the girl came back but I continued to smoke. It was considered almost quite sleek or glamorous back then. You always saw movie stars smoking. I didn't really think about the health implications.

I did try to stop about a year ago but then I was at a christening at a hotel and suddenly realised all my friends had disappeared. When I went to find them they were all outside, having a smoke. I asked for one but they all said no, that I'd stopped and they weren't going to encourage me to start again.

So I went over to a complete stranger and asked him instead! I'd had a few glasses of wine and it seemed like a good idea.

And that was me back on them again. It's been 21 years now and I’m still on the Menthol, around 15 a day. But I've decided that this time, I’m going to knock them on the head and do it with the help of the doctor. I've never tried any aid to stopping smoking before but I'm going to see if the tablets can help me.

I have to stop. My kids can't abide it and if I'm honest, I don't really like smoking any more. I hate the smell on other people, I hate what it does to your breath and your teeth and I'm well aware of the health problems.

So far, I've been lucky enough, but I know they could be killing me. I've seen an ad on television for a lovely wee car and I'm going to treat myself to that with the money I save by quitting smoking. I am determined to give up the cigarettes this time.

‘I did smoke when pregnant’

Diane McGreevy, (right) is a 31-year-old waitress and mum of two from Newtownabbey. She says:

I've been smoking since I was 16 and have managed to get down from about 15 or 20 a day to 10. But I have set myself a quit date — Mother's Day.

Six years ago today my mum died of cancer. They never found the primary site but they found secondary tumours on her spine. I know I have to give up, particularly as I'm a mum myself. So far I've been lucky enough health-wise.

My kids are 12 and four. My son, the older one, is always badgering me to stop. He keeps telling me that I'm taking minutes off my life. My little girl thinks I've stopped. When a friend asked me to go outside for a fag, she said ‘my mum doesn't smoke'. Even when the word ‘fag' is spelled out, she knows what we're saying.

At school we were taught about the dangers of smoking, but I just ignored the warnings and when that anti-smoking ad comes on TV, ‘Things You Could Do Before You Die’, I switch over. I did have the odd cigarette when I was pregnant. We all know how dangerous it is to smoke during pregnancy but it is an addiction and it's so hard to give up. In 2009 I managed to stop for 12 weeks but I didn't have the will power to continue.

I'm prepared to try anything and I've been going to see a woman from the Ulster Cancer Foundation who runs a programme to help smokers quit.

She has been really supportive and with her help, I am determined to be off them for good come Mother's Day.

... the one who quit for good

‘I’m smoke free for a year’

Out of habit: Orla Hillick with granddaughter AvaOrla Hillick, (39), is a mum of three and finance assistant from Belfast. She says:

I have just celebrated my first year without cigarettes. I stopped on February 20 last year, after a few attempts that only ever lasted two or three months.

I started smoking young, I was about 11 or 12 and I suppose I just thought it was the cool thing to do. I was smoking about five a day but as I got older it was more like 20 a day.

If I was out socialising I could easily get through two packs without really thinking about it.

You didn't hear as much about the health risks back when I started, but over the last few years I've become increasingly aware of my health and the damage I was doing to it because of my smoking.

I have three daughters and a grand daughter Ava and I want to be around 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. I was never going to enter a marathon but I did notice that I wasn't as fit or active as I should be.

When I gave up cigarettes last year I went to see my doctor and got patches to help me with my cravings. Since then I haven’t had a single cigarette. It was tough at the start but I got there.

Even when I've had a few glasses of wine I'm not that bothered about smoking. I feel great now and I’m so proud of finally being able to say that I don’t smoke any more.

Smoking Day is organised in Northern Ireland by the Ulster Cancer Foundation. For more information go to www.nosmokingday.org.uk, call the freephone Smokers’ Helpline on 0808 812 8008 or to join a UCF stop smoking clinic ring 9066 3281.

the essential steps to quitting ...

  • Understand why you want to stop — personal reasons or pressure from friends or family
  • Prepare to stop — look at all the reasons why you smoke and the times you smoke most
  • Set a date — choose an ordinary day when there is no pressure
  • Decide on method — should you go to a cessation clinic, or use patches
  • Detach yourself from smoking — get rid of ashtrays, matches and lighters
  • Tell friends and family you are giving up — it can help keep you motivated
  • Think ahead — imagine the challenges you will face and visualise yourself not smoking

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