A total of 1,430 people using stop smoking services across Northern Ireland signed up to quit during last year’s No Smoking Month. Cancer Focus Northern Ireland and the Public Health Agency (PHA) are now urging thousands more to stub out their cigarettes and ‘Make March Your Month to Quit’.
Smoking causes 25% of all cancers in Northern Ireland and is our greatest cause of preventable death and disease, Cancer Focus NI warned.
Cancer Focus NI’s Naomi Thompson said: “Stopping smoking is the most important thing you can do to improve your health.
“Most smokers want to stop - there are just so many health benefits. Twenty-four hours after stopping, lungs start clearing out your build-up of mucus and within three to nine months your lungs will absorb up to 10% more oxygen.
“Smokers are four times more likely to quit if they get help and we have been providing that support for more than 50 years, consistently getting a 68% quit rate in four weeks,” she added.
“We hope you are ready to stop in March - No Smoking Month - but you can pick a date any time and Cancer Focus NI is more than happy to help and give you lots of tips to make quitting that bit easier.
“We will look at coping with cravings, managing stress, avoiding weight gain and developing a healthy lifestyle. You don’t have to face it alone.”
Colette Rogers, strategic lead for Tobacco Control with the PHA, said: “There is a range of services across Northern Ireland that have an excellent track record in helping people to quit. Experienced stop smoking staff provide a friendly, supportive service in a relaxed environment.
“The support services will help design a stop smoking plan that will work best for you to make quitting as easy as possible. This could include Nicotine Replacement Therapy and other support to cope with cravings and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.”
Cancer Focus NI’s award-winning stop smoking service is funded by the PHA. More than 70% of all people who attempt to quit smoking use services provided by community pharmacies. Services are also available in GP practices, and a range of health and wellbeing centres, community settings, workplace and youth settings including schools.
No Smoking Month is co-ordinated by Cancer Focus NI and includes a partnership with the Department of Health, the PHA, the Health Living Centres Alliance, Health and Social Care Trusts, and local councils.
Lee Foster (43), from Ballymena, is an engineer. He started smoking at 15 and smoked on and off for 20 years. With help from Cancer Focus NI he has finally stopped. He says:
I ‘ve tried many times to stop this horrible habit over the years and maybe got three or four days in before giving up.
I just couldn’t get past those few days. Maybe it was because I always tried to go cold turkey with no assistance or nicotine replacements.
My workplace invited Trudy Barnes from Cancer Focus NI in for a 12-week programme. After an initial meeting, a few of us at Veolia signed up to give it a go and see if they could really help us... at the end of the day there was really nothing to lose.
Within two to three weeks the two old-timers of the group, the two who had smoked the longest and most frequently, had astonishingly stopped, putting us (slightly) younger lads to shame. They set the benchmark.
It took me three to four weeks before I stopped and the cool thing was there was absolute no pressure from anyone, especially Trudy. She just kept saying whenever you feel ready to pick a quit date then that’s the date we’ll go for. This made everyone feel more relaxed and alleviated the pressure a lot.
I gradually reduced my smoking as I got nearer my chosen date.
The first week off them was the hardest. I knew it’d be tough but this was harder than expected. Don’t get me wrong, other lads just eased through it but everyone is different. I was a mess and fatter at that.
The second week was much easier. Trudy checked in on us every Tuesday to see how we were doing and to give us our nicotine replacements - the lozenges and the inhalator were a great help. She also offered kind words of support.
It was definitely more beneficial doing it as a group because we helped each other when it was tough, encouraged each other all the time and the banter was mighty too, which kept us going.
We didn’t want to let each other down.
I’m so proud of all the lads that took part and I’m especially proud of myself.
Everyone looks far fresher, healthier, more energetic - seriously, it’s quite unbelievable that we all did it.”
Kate Pickering (53), from Belfast, has a 23-year-old daughter and works in the community sector. She smoked for 41 years, starting at the age of 12. Cancer Focus NI helped her quit and to set up a support group for others. She says:
For me, smoking was something you and your peers tried or didn’t - I did and it stuck. By the time smoking became anti-social I was smoking 20 a day. There is a lot of new information available about the dangers of smoking, so about 10 years ago I thought I would try to give up.
I was successful and was very proud of myself - I used Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), which was great. I was off the cigarettes for about three years but had put on a lot of weight - this depressed me and I started smoking again.
Last year, I had chest infections affecting my breathing. I was on antibiotics and inhalers and, as a fit and healthy person, this shocked me. I decided to stop before I did irreversible damage to my lungs.
I got in contact with Cancer Focus NI - this was a great service with one to one support and started me on my journey to success. After smoking for so many years I needed further support, so I arranged with Cancer Focus NI and my boss to set up a support group, which started last October.
We started with 14 people, Cancer Focus NI came along and gave a presentation on the harm smoking does and the charity provide a specialist one night a week to run a support group in our office.
It’s still running today, providing information, good craic, NRT, information on other services available, for all ages and genders, tea, coffee - and most of all sharing and listening to others and how they succeed in reaching their goal.
The group also provides acupuncture free of charge which helps with anxiety you may feel in choosing to stop smoking.
So far, nine people have stopped smoking (myself included), two have set a stop date and two are still with the group in preparation to setting their stop date.
I felt there was absolutely no pressure to stop straight away. I started last October and finished my NRT in February.
I know I will never smoke again. It was a very relaxed process and I could do this at my own pace, I got appointments with a dietician to help with my eating plan and a personal trainer to help with my fitness - these services are free of charge in our group and I feel this support will help me change the habits of a lifetime.
So why not put your health first, think of the money you will save (especially if you are a couple) and come along and join us.
We are based in west Belfast and are in the process of starting a support group in south-east Belfast.”
For more information contact: Kate Pickering, CRJI, 1st Floor Slemish Buildings, 105 Andersonstown Road, Belfast, BT11 9BS, T: 9030 1521.The group runs on Wednesdays from 3.30pm to 5.30pm
Tony Spence (54), a procurement manager from Belfast, is married to Martine and has a grown-up daughter. He started smoking when he was 14 in 1979. He used the Cancer Focus NI workplace stop smoking service last year and is smoke free at last. He says:
I started smoking because it was cool and I was a punk rocker and nobody told me what to do. Forty years later in 2019, I was getting out of breath, coughing and spluttering and could barely breathe after doing the simplest task such as walking to the bus stop 20 yards from my house.
I spent £10 a day on a packet of cigarettes and my entire daily routine revolved around when, where and how I was going to smoke. I knew I’d be extremely ill, if not dead, by the time I got to 60.
Last autumn, the Cancer Focus NI team set up a stall in the lobby where I work and on a whim I stopped to speak to them and to have the carbon monoxide in my breath measured. I scored 27.
Twenty-seven parts of what was hanging around my chest was composed of a poisonous gas.
So I signed up there and then for the smoking cessation programme.
I thought that it was excellent from the very beginning, particularly given that I hadn’t had a smoke free day in 40 years and found the idea of stopping pretty terrifying.
The initial presentation made things very clear as to the options available, the methods used and the entire psychology of smoking and how it was possible to break the addiction.
Each smoker was assigned a smoking cessation adviser to meet with on a weekly basis. Tina Fegan from Cancer Focus NI was a fantastic help and encouragement to me in leading up to the quitting date and was a great support in the weeks that followed.
The programme is tailored to what works for the individual, so the options are all agreed and planned out. If you want to try NRT or perhaps the use of pharmaceuticals (Champix) then you can explore and find out what suits you best. Do you want to cut down or go cold turkey, what happens when you have cravings, how different situations affect you - this is all discussed with the advisor and their input is invaluable.
Quitting actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be - my biggest fear was not being able to do it which was why I had put it off for so many years perhaps.
I would recommend the programme to anyone who wants to stop smoking. It might add years to your life.
My carbon monoxide level is now 2 and I have £550 more in my pocket. I can breathe. I can walk. I can lift things. Some people tell me I look great.
I have no intention of ever smoking again. I’m still a punk rocker and nobody tells me what to do.”
1. Make March your month to quit.
2. Make a plan. Think about what could help you stop, such as using a nicotine-replacement product and have it ready before you plan to stop.
3. Get support and let your family and friends know that you’re quitting. Some people find that talking to friends and relatives who have stopped can be helpful. You can also talk to a local stop smoking team.
4. Keep busy to help take your mind off cigarettes. Try to change your routine and avoid the shop where you normally buy cigarettes.
5. Treat yourself. If you can, use the money you’re saving by not smoking to buy yourself something special.
For more information on the services available and useful tips to stop smoking, visit www.cancerfocusni.org/stopsmoking or the PHA’s www.stopsmokingni.info site