The desire to smoke never leaves you, it’s always there and it’s always a battle
Ron, 60 from Lincoln, has idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). He shares his story of giving up smoking when he was in his fifties, and the support that he received.
I’d tried to give up smoking on numerous occasions without success
At the age of sixteen I started smoking. I was brought up in a smoking atmosphere. My mum and dad smoked, my brother smoked, my nan smoked, my sister smoked and most of my uncles smoked. Funnily enough, I didn’t want to smoke, but one day I succumbed to peer pressure from a friend when we were going to our school disco. I packed it up at the age of twenty-seven, but I restarted again at the age of thirty and I smoked for the last time when I was fifty. I used to smoke between 15-20 cigarettes a day.
The craving to smoke never leaves you. Even when you’ve packed it up, after a period of time you still need willpower. In 1987, I stopped smoking on the day my ex-wife told me that she was pregnant. Then, I started a new job in 1990, and I went to a Christmas party where someone offered me a cigar. My thought process at the time was that I had packed it up for three years, so a cigar’s not going to hurt. How wrong I was, because one cigar led to two cigars a day, led to five cigars a day, led to ten cigars a day, and then I thought it’s cheaper to smoke, so I started smoking again.
I’d tried to give up smoking on numerous occasions without success. It’s a habit that is hard to give up. I can always remember when I worked on a shop floor we would go to a tea-room during our breaks for a cup of tea and a cigarette. One day, I lit it and I started smoking and the guy opposite me said, “You didn’t even know you were lighting a cigarette,” he said, “that’s just pure habit.” I think he was right.
In the mornings, when I was a smoker, I used to come downstairs and light a cigarette on the gas stove and then go out into the garden with a cigarette and a cup of tea. Even when I packed it up sometimes I’d come down in the morning and I’d light that gas stove. And I’d think, what? You silly idiot, you packed it up, but it shows what a habit you have and how you have become addicted to it.
I wanted to stop smoking but I couldn’t do it on my own
A lot of my friends were doing Iron Man challenges and triathlons and I would train with them, doing lots of training and swimming. For my 50th birthday my best mate paid for me to enter the London Triathlon and his words were, “You’ve done enough training, now put it into action.”
That was in December. In March I went for my first run. I could cycle, and I could swim, but I couldn’t run. When I went for a run my chest was so tight, I was coughing, and I realised just how unfit I was. Because I was cycling and I was swimming and I was doing lots of exercise, I thought smoking had no effect on me, but when I went for that run it made me realise that I needed to stop.
When I went to the doctor’s and I said to him, “I want to pack up smoking. I can’t do it on my own” he was gobsmacked. He’d been on to me for ages to pack it up. I kept saying, “Yeah, yeah, I will do it” but it wasn’t until I went to him that I was successful.
He sent me to the local stop smoking service that helps you give up with a nurse as support. At my first appointment I had the carbon monoxide test. My reading was – I’ll always remember - twenty-seven/twenty-eight which is high’, and the nurse said, “You need to pack it up. How do you want to do it?” I didn’t want to use patches because they would come off when I was swimming, so the nurse suggested taking a drug called Champix.
When I was giving up, I was working full time. The service rang me every week to offer support. They did a very good job and without their help I wouldn’t have been able to do it. If I’m totally honest with myself, I wouldn’t have succeeded in giving up. And then I wouldn’t have married my wife, Maxine, because she doesn’t like smokers.
The craving comes back to you occasionally. Sometimes if you’re on the golf course and you’re behind someone, sometimes that whiff, you think, oh my God, I could murder a cigarette. Smoking never leaves you, it’s always there and it’s always a battle.
Don’t make a smoker feel guilty, instead be there to support and help
To any health care professionals who are giving Very Brief Advice, I would say try and offer support. Ask “How can I support you in packing up smoking? Or is there any way I can support you to give up?” I’ve always looked at those images on packs of cigarettes, the damage it does to the lungs and the heart, but when you’re a smoker you don’t take a blind bit of notice. You need support to be offered and for an acknowledgment that it is going to be hard to give up, but that support will help and is there for you. Don’t make a smoker feel guilty, instead be there to support and help. Say, “We understand you started, we know it’s really hard to get off, it’s addictive, and if you feel like quitting is something that you want, we’ll support you to do it.”
When I smoked, I always wanted to pack it up but couldn’t. I think if support was given straight away I’d have stopped sooner. Because a smoker – funnily enough – doesn’t want to smoke.
The Taskforce for Lung Health, along with Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, are calling for training in VBA to be routine for all health care professionals. Read the Taskforce's recommendations for smoking cessation, here.