Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Health

No ifs, no butts... how we finally stopped smoking


Prince Harry has promised fiancee Meghan Markle he will stub out his 17-year cigarette habit, while many of us have made quitting smoking a New Year resolution. Lee Henry asks well-known personalities how they did it.

‘I found the smell of smoke enticing rather than nasty’

Journalist and broadcaster Malachi O’Doherty (66) lives in Belfast with wife Maureen. He says:

I grew up in a family of smokers, often with a cloud in the middle of the living room. My parents urged me not to smoke but weren’t surprised when I started. My sister Brid taught me to smoke. I was trying to impress a girlfriend called Jackie, from Rathcoole.

At first I coughed and choked a lot. When Brid was finished with me, I could blow smoke rings. I thought that was urbane; just the note I wanted to strike. I was 17. A lot of my school friends had been smoking since childhood and thought I was daft taking it up at an age at which I should have known better.

In my early twenties, I tried several times to give up. The biggest difficulty was that smoking friends didn’t really want me to stop. In newsrooms at that time, nearly everyone smoked at their desks. The real journalist could type with a cigarette between the fingers.

I succeeded in breaking the habit when I was in India in the mid-Seventies among people who did not smoke. Even then, giving up was hard. The mind plays tricks on you. The desire for a fag sneaks up on you deceptively. It kids you that, since you are doing so well, you deserve one wee puff.

And it was years before I could be confident I was in the clear. Non-smokers would moan about the smell of smoke in a room: I always found it enticing, never a nasty off-putting smell. Always a temptation.

I have no other such addictions, so I can’t compare but it would not surprise me if giving up tobacco was as difficult as giving up heroin. I am off them 40 years now. In an extremely stressful situation, I might yet be tempted.”

‘I met a friend’s brother who had lung cancer...’

Playwright Rosemary Jenkinson (50) lives in Belfast. Her play May The Road Rise Up opens at the Lyric Theatre in February. She says:

Having started at university, I smoked on and off for years. I was mainly a social smoker, as I couldn’t have a pint without accompanying it with a fag — sometimes I’d even have a cigarette hangover on top of a normal one.

I once lived with a boyfriend who was a non-smoker but I always had a packet tucked away and smoked when he was out, like some secret nico-holic.

Later, when I moved abroad, I was really into strong Gauloises, which I thought were uber-cool. By my late thirties, I had a barking cough like a sea lion and couldn’t walk up Cave Hill without wheezing.

One night in Kelly’s Cellars, I met a friend’s brother who had lung cancer. He had been a heavy smoker and it brought home the risks to me.

The worst thing was he was sitting next to my fumes and, yet, I was so selfishly hooked, I could hardly bring myself to put out the cigarette.

That was the last night I ever smoked. For a while, I brought a cork with me to the pubs so I would have something to fidget with instead of a cigarette — unfortunately I started biting my nails more.

Happily, nowadays, I don’t even miss smoking.”

‘I found God and realised I no longer wanted to smoke’

Model and dancer David Idris (18) lives in Belfast. He says:

I began smoking when I was 15 years old, just a few weeks before my 16th birthday. I started because I was in a relationship with a girl at the time, and, being young and naive, I also felt I had to try and impress her.

I got addicted, fell in with the wrong crowd and started smoking 10 cigarettes a day. If I was out partying, I’d probably smoke about 15. When I would get stressed, depressed or insecure, I’d really crave a cigarette.

I got to a point in my life where I’d go to the bus stop bins and literally pick up a half-finished cigarette because I couldn’t afford any.

I decided to quit smoking just a few months before I turned 18. I went to a church one Sunday afternoon and during that Sunday service I felt that God was calling me. I decided to get to know God better, woke up one day and I just didn’t have the urge or the desire to smoke anymore.

A lot of people in the modelling industry do smoke.

I believe that’s because of

insecurities and anxiety more than anything, but it is frowned upon.

Directors know that smoking is bad for your skin and can destroy a model’s youthful looks.”

‘I resorted to a book to help me ... and it was liberating’

Fantasy author Jo Zebedee (45) lives in Carrickfergus with her husband Chris and daughters Becky (17) and Holly (12). She says:

My first cigarette was shared around the side of my primary school in P7, down by the little river that tracked the playground and, at university, I established a hefty habit, which continued through most of my twenties.

I muttered about giving up but was never that hung up on it. The stats were on my side: I could give up in a few years and still have time to reverse any damage.

Then, I became pregnant. Suddenly, this wasn’t about me but about someone who wasn’t getting a say in the matter. I had run out of time.  

I tried cold turkey and didn’t get far.

In the end, I resorted to Allen Carr’s The Easy Way to Stop Smoking.

It was completely liberating. Stopping smoking didn’t have to be a whole lifetime thing. I could choose not to smoke a day at a time and if I fell off the wagon, I could just stop again the next day.

I finished the book in October and stopped.

Between October and December 31st, 1999, I had about five cigarettes.

I smoked my last on New Year’s Eve. To this day, I don’t call myself a non-smoker. Not because I have cravings but because that’s how I gave up, by not making grand statements about being or not being a non-smoker. But I don’t think I will smoke again.”

‘I went cold turkey ... it’s been surprisingly easy’

BBC Radio Ulster’s The Art Show presenter Steven Rainey (36) lives in Belfast with his fiancée Zoe (34). He says:

A relationship I’d been in had just come to a messy end and I found myself pacing round my empty flat, wondering what to do with myself. I was listening to Miles Davis and something about the music seemed to cry out for a cigarette. That’s how I started smoking at the age of 21.

But as silly as that was, I stuck at it for another 15 years or so. Money was always tight but somehow I’d find enough for a packet of cigarettes.

And as the years went by, smoking became a part of my character and how I saw myself.

I would use it to mark time — smoking to break up the day or to reward myself for completing a task in work — but I knew it was bad for me and I think the clock had been ticking for a long time.

I would get out of breath quicker than I should and I stopped enjoying the act of smoking.

Seeing people on the street smoking while I was sat on the bus, I would look at their screwed up faces as they inhaled and wonder whether I looked like that.

So I quit. I went cold turkey. And so far (a month), it’s been surprisingly easy.

I probably should have done this years ago.”

‘My nicotine infatuation ended, thanks to my wife’

Crime novelist Anthony Quinn (46) lives near Dungannon with his wife Clare (43). His latest novel, Undertow, is out now. He says:

For years I was the worst type of tobacco addict, a social smoker, too busy entertaining and being entertained to be aware of how many cigarettes I was consuming.

Most of the time they weren’t even my own cigarettes. I smoked by proxy on nights out at the weekend and then, during the week, overwhelmed with disgust, I wouldn’t even look at a cigarette pack, let alone stare down the length of a lit one.

I was a serial quitter. Sometimes months would go by without me smoking and then, on another night out, a sudden pang for nicotine would overtake me and I’d find myself scouring the darkest corners of the bar for a fellow smoker.

To be honest, smoking was an adventure that started during my student days at Queen’s University Belfast. I was a shy and incredibly reticent 19-year-old, preferring to spend long hours in the library tower block reading and writing poetry than actually conversing with other human beings.

Then one night in a quiet corner of the Student Union bar, a friend gave me one of his cigarettes and something in my brain burst into life.

Somehow, the act of smoking made me feel more eloquent and daring. I felt as though my tongue had been magically untied.

On one of those nights out, I met my wife, Clare, a medical student. Smoking was anathema to her entire outlook on life but she tolerated my social smoking, at least at the start.

Eventually something awoke in her, probably the realisation that she was going to be stuck with me for the rest of her life, and she asked me to quit.

My infatuation with nicotine evaporated thanks to the love of my life.”

Benefits of stopping smoking begin within less than an hour

20 minutes

Your blood pressure and pulse rate return to normal.

8 hours

Oxygen levels in your blood return to normal and the levels of carbon monoxide are reduced by more than half.

24 hours

Carbon monoxide has been eliminated from your body. Your lungs start to clear out mucus and debris.

48 hours

Your taste and smell is improved.

72 hours

Breathing becomes easier. Your energy levels increase.

2 to 12 weeks

Circulation improves throughout the body, making walking and running much easier.

5 years

Your heart-attack risk falls to about half that of a smoker.

10 years

Your risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker.

15 years

Your risk of heart disease is nearly the same as someone who has never smoked.

For tips on quitting smoking, visit the website

Useful charities which could help: and

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph