By ex-smoker and Smoking Cessation Adviser, Andreena Bogle Walton
I was always going to be a tough one to crack. Even being pregnant wasn’t enough to stop me smoking.
I started when I was just 13, stealing my mum’s cigarettes out of the kitchen draw. Before I quit, six years ago, I was smoking up to 20 a day and prioritising cigarettes over everything, even food.
That was until my daughter, Renee, started asking questions. She’d learned at school that smoking is the one of the worst things you can do for your heart health and that it can send you to an early grave.
Why would her mummy want to do that to herself?
Seeing it through a child’s eyes was actually a huge wake up call. On the surface you’re wasting thousands of pounds a year on something which makes you smell worse, age faster and die younger.
But the reality for me, like so many others who struggle to quit, is that I really enjoyed smoking. It was the one thing I considered to be my vice and having a cigarette was ‘me time’. That’s why quitting on my own was never an option, I wouldn’t have had the willpower to cope with the temptation or mental strain.
And I guarantee the same can be said for many of the final fifth of the population that still smoke. From my experience, most smokers know how bad it is for their health; they simply aren’t ready to quit or don’t have the support network around them to take the leap.
Because quitting isn’t easy. In fact the second and third weeks of my quitting journey were awful - I had bad mood swings and felt really emotional. But my smoking cessation advisor was my lifeline; she kept me on track whenever I felt like throwing in the towel and gave me constant reminders of why I was doing this.
The first time I walked in to my local stop smoking service in Hackney I thought I might be given advice on nicotine replacement or stop smoking medicines but I quickly realised it was so much more than just information.
It was sharing the experience with my advisor; you felt like they had your back and genuinely cared about your success. She would always pick me up when I was on the brink of relapse and made sure I had enough patches to see me through to our next meeting. I owe a lot to that service for keeping me motivated and coming out the other side a non-smoker.
In fact I was so empowered by my own experience that I trained as a cessation adviser to help other smokers to quit. My service is based within a hospital so every day I see the horrendous impact that smoking has on people’s lives.
Patients are referred to us from all over the hospital because it affects every part your body, not just your heart and lungs but your skin, teeth and gums too. This has helped me to stay away from cigarettes but it’s important that others are reminded too.
And that’s why it’s crucial the Government make a real invest in public facing campaigns and services instead of side-lining smoking as a public health issue which is ‘done and dusted’. It isn’t and there’s still a long way to go.
We need to see a levy introduced on big tobacco companies, so they pay for the damage they’ve done to the health of countless individuals and the National Health Service.
But punishing these companies won’t bring down smoking rates. This money should be pushed straight back into smoking cessation services and campaigns to encourage and support people to quit.
The facts speak for themselves: you’re four times more likely to quit if you use a local stop smoking service.
So support BHF's call on the government to introduce a tobacco levy today and help to ensure that all smokers have access to the quit support they need and deserve.