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No ifs, no Butts: How did they break the smoking habit of a lifetime?

Cancer Focus NI can help you kick the habit and reap the rewards

Stopping smoking is the most important thing you can do to improve your health. Not only that, but a 20-a-day smoker who decides to quit could save themselves about £67 a week, or almost £3,500 a year.

Cancer Focus Northern Ireland is urging smokers to ditch the habit for good on No Smoking Day tomorrow - and they will help you.

Smoking causes 25% of all cancers in Northern Ireland and is our greatest cause of preventable death and disease, the charity warns.

Cancer Focus NI's Naomi Thompson says: "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."

Naomi adds: "Smokers are four times more likely to quit if they get help, and we have been providing that support for more than 40 years, consistently getting a 68% quit rate in four weeks.

"If you aren't quite ready to stop tomorrow, you can pick a new date and Cancer Focus NI is more than happy to help and give you lots of tried and tested 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."

Cancer Focus NI's award-winning stop smoking service is funded by the Public Health Agency (PHA) and is available in GP practices, health and well-being centres, community, workplace and youth settings including schools.

No Smoking Day is co-ordinated in Northern Ireland by Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, the Public Health Agency, the Healthy Living Centre Alliance and Health and Social Care Trusts, which are all members of the local No Smoking Day Co-ordinating Committee.

‘My daughter-in-law said she couldn’t bear to lose two mums’

Suzanne Patterson (48), a receptionist from Dunmurry, who has a grown-up son, Scott, smoked for 34 years - but feels like a new woman since she gave up 17 months ago. She says:

I was about 16 when I had my first cigarette. A couple of girls taught me to inhale and I fainted on the spot. I was worried that my mum would see the state I was in. Now, I wish she had caught me.

I wasn't put off and tried again, it was the 'in thing' to do. Before I knew it, I was a smoker. I've stopped a few times, once for two years, but even then I wasn't 100% committed.

Eventually, I realised that I wasn't enjoying it anymore, I was bored and only smoking half a cigarette at a time.

I was breathless when I was going up stairs or out for a walk and hated the smell. It was costing me nearly £50 a week too.

At first you don't realise what a hold smoking has on you. I almost panicked if I didn't have any cigarettes left at work and couldn't get one until home time. It was like nails scraping on a blackboard to me - it was a terrible way to be. I hated them but I needed that bit of help just to get off them.

Then, my brother, David, died of cancer in August 2015 and my daughter-in-law, Amy, lost her mum to lung cancer. She was only 51. Amy said to my son that I should stop, she couldn't bear to lose two mums. That really touched me.

I had an appointment at Dunmurry Dental Practice and saw a poster for the Cancer Focus NI stop smoking clinic. I thought it was fate - that poster was meant for me.

I made an appointment with a Cancer Focus NI stop smoking specialist and she was fantastic. She didn't put any pressure on me, which is what I really liked about her. I cut down from 20 a day to 10 and then eight. We picked a date for me to quit.

But then my sister-in-law died and I just knew I wasn't in the right frame of mind. The specialist was very reassuring. She said we could set a new date and I hadn't let myself or anyone else down, which made me feel a lot better about it.

I just decided one Saturday night that I was smoking my last cigarette. I didn't even think about a cigarette the next day. This time I knew in my heart that I'd do it.

Now, I'm getting healthier. I go out for walks more often and I bought an exercise bike. I'm thinking of starting swimming too.

Just being able to breathe properly again is wonderful - before I was breathless and coughing going up and down stairs or out walking, especially on a windy day. I feel fresher and cleaner too.

I'd encourage anyone to get help to quit - the success rate is so much higher."

‘I used to smoke 20 cigarettes a day ... now I run 5K races regularly’

Alma Wynn (64), from Bangor, smoked for 40 years and could get through 20 cigarettes a day. She gave up 20 months ago with help from a Cancer Focus NI stop smoking specialist — and now runs 5k races. She says:

Having four grandchildren  — Cole Graham, (6), Noah Hodges, (5), Myla Graham, (8) and Maisie Graham (13-months) — gave me a real incentive to stop smoking. Just looking at them makes me want to be fit, healthy and able to visit them and to be a good example to them.

Since quitting I am also £250 a month better off and feel much healthier. Now I run — I couldn’t have done that before. I’ve even done a couple of 5k runs and I’m very happy about that. I feel I have really achieved something. Quitting represents all the good things I know are out there for me.

I had half-heartedly tried to stop a few times years ago but wasn’t successful. One day I was at the doctor’s, I hadn’t been planning to stop but I saw a poster that said ‘Most smokers want to stop’. I thought, well, yes, that’s true.

I had to go back the following week and the poster caught my eye again.

Since I was in the surgery anyway, I decided to ask the receptionist about it — she was lovely and very encouraging and I came out with an appointment to see a Cancer Focus NI stop smoking specialist. I must have been thinking about it subconsciously — everything about smoking was annoying me. I suppose I wanted to be a non-smoker but without the hassle of actually giving up. Even when I went to the stop smoking clinic, I was a bit blase, thinking I didn’t have to stop if I didn’t want to. But the specialist was so supportive, encouraging and very positive — and before I knew it I was quitting.

I took it day by day to see how it would go and it snowballed from there. In a few days I’d cut down to 10 cigarettes a day. A week later I had stopped completely with the help of Nicotine Replacement Therapy — nicotine patches and an inhaler.

I know I never want to smoke again. I had built quitting up in my head to be a huge hurdle and it turned out it wasn’t so bad after all. I can finally say that I’m proud to be a quitter, and I’m a happy non-smoker.”

‘Getting help to quit saved my life ... I’ll be forever grateful’

Singleton William McMullan (53), from south Belfast, smoked 50-a-day and used the Cancer Focus NI stop smoking service to help him quit last September when he realised his health was deteriorating. He says:

Istarted smoking when I was 13 and I’ve been a smoker for 40 years. I had my first puff in the playground at school. A young lad took a cigarette out and we all had a go. You felt pressurised into it, you were a little boy if you didn’t, a big boy if you did. It made you feel part of a group.

Every morning I reached for a cigarette, even before I got out of bed. I remember one morning lighting up and by the time I got to the bathroom I had started coughing up black phlegm. It was so severe I passed out. An hour later I lit another cigarette and the same thing happened. I told myself I would have to stop, I was killing myself.

I’ve tried to quit many times. I’ve used lozenges, gum and patches, but none of them worked for me. Then, in 2012, I found out that I was HIV positive, which was a massive shock and a huge reality check. Six months later I started going to Positive Life, an HIV charity in Northern Ireland, where I now do voluntary work.

It was when Cancer Focus NI came along to give a talk that I felt motivated. I really wanted to stop this time. I’d been warned that smoking would affect me much worse than a person who doesn’t have HIV. I knew I needed to do something and now I felt ready.

I met Cancer Focus NI’s stop smoking specialist Doreen Regan and in all honesty she was the first person who didn’t make me feel bad about smoking. She was supportive and encouraging, rather than trying to force me to stop.

Doreen suggested trying a nicotine spray for your mouth, which did the trick for me. I had my last cigarette last September and I haven’t looked back.

I’d been smoking 50 cigarettes a day for the previous five years — they were the be-all and end-all of my life. Everything centred around when I was going to get my next one.

Stopping has made a huge difference. My health is so much better and I’ve put on a bit of weight — I couldn’t afford to smoke and buy food. Now I can taste food.

I’ve also been able to save money for holidays. Getting help saved my life, for that I will be forever grateful. It has turned my life around.

Doreen deserves a medal, along with all the staff at Cancer Focus NI. I’d encourage any smoker to pop in with them, have a chat, see how you feel and take it from there.”

Cancer Focus NI’s top tips for quitting

  • 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 Public Health Agency
  • Write down all the reasons you want to stop and stick the note 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 and order a free Quit Fit
  • Find out more about Cancer Focus NI stop smoking services on 9066 3281, or

The advantages of giving up cigarettes

The health benefits from giving up smoking begin within 20 minutes of stopping, and will greatly increase over the years. After your last cigarette…

20 minutes — Blood pressure returns to normal

24 hours — Carbon monoxide is eliminated from your body and your lungs start to clear out mucus

48 hours — No nicotine is left in your body. Taste and smell improves

72 hours — Breathing becomes easier and your energy levels will increase

2-12 weeks — Circulation improves, making walking and running easier

3-9 months — Coughs and breathing problems improve as lung function improves by 10%

5 years — Risk of heart attack falls to half that of a smoker

10 years — Risk of lung cancer falls to half that of a smoker

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