Published: 29 April 2021
We know that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in Ireland, accounting for 1 in 5 deaths every year. The current prevalence of smoking in HSE staff members is 10.6%, which equates to 11,204 HSE staff members.
For every healthcare worker who currently smokes, two healthcare workers have quit.
COVID-19 has motivated many people to quit. HSE offers behavioural support to staff and encourages the use of stop smoking medication to optimise chances of quitting successfully. You are four times more likely to quit when using a combination of behavioural support and stop smoking medication and five times more likely to remain quit if they quit for 28 days.
Supports to quit smoking
As an HSE staff member, you can access free stop smoking medication to help you stop smoking. Stop smoking medication means using nicotine replacement therapies, a prescription drug called Champix, or a combination of both to help you quit. You can avail of a free GP visit for your prescription if your Stop Smoking Advisor recommends Champix for you.
Smoking medication is currently licenced and recommended for 12 weeks
Overall, you're up to 4 times more likely to stop smoking for good if you use a combination of stop smoking medication and receive support from a Stop Smoking Advisor.
One of Rose’s earliest memories is buying cigarettes as a very young girl with her First Communion money. But with a lot of willpower and support, 54-year-old Rose has turned a 46-year habit into a distant memory in three short months.
“I started smoking when I was eight or nine. I even remember buying loose cigarettes on my way to school. I had eight siblings and we all smoked so it was kind of like second nature to me,” said Rose, who works in St John of God’s.
Four decades of smoking was beginning to take a real toll on Rose’s health and her quality of life. She finally decided that she was not going to bring her cigarettes with her into 2021.
“It was getting to the stage that I couldn’t catch my breath. I had resolved to get fit but was really struggling with the cardio at the gym. So I started having a word with myself. I’d find it hard to walk up a hill and I’d say to myself, ‘that’s because you are smoking’. I recognised that I needed to quit but it was about finding a time that was right for me to stop,” she explained.
“I had seen an ad for the Quit campaign just before Christmas and knew I had to do it, finally. I got in touch with Colleen Fahey, a Health Promotion and Improvement Officer, who was going to help me through it. She suggested a couple of dates to quit but I had a stressful COVID period at work and the Christmas holidays were coming up so I put it off a couple of times. But Colleen stuck with me and I finally decided that I would give up before the New Year came.”
Health Promotion and Improvement Officer Colleen Fahey said her advice to Rose wasn’t very different to the advice she gives all her clients.
“When I first spoke to Rose we spent some time exploring her smoking habit and her motivations for quitting. As each person’s quit journey is different, I encourage all my clients to reflect on their personal motivations for quitting and to remind themselves of these often. I also talked her through her stop smoking medication options which we are delighted to be able to offer to staff for free as part of our staff stop smoking initiative. Being able to access free stop smoking medication has proved to be a great incentive for staff who wish to embark on their quit journey,” she said.
She explained that everyone’s quit journey is unique but urges everyone giving up cigarettes to just take one day at a time.
“As many of the people we support to quit have been smoking for many years it can be difficult for them to imagine a life without cigarettes. They know ‘why’ they should quit but the ‘how’ can be overwhelming to consider as smoking is intertwined with the highs and lows of their lives and everything in between. Using our intensive behavioural support programme we support our clients to break down the challenge of quitting into a manageable plan. This supports them to take it one day at a time and before they know it the days start turning into weeks.”
This wasn’t Rose’s first attempt at giving up cigarettes. She managed to quit eight years ago and stayed off them for nine months before she started up again after the death of her father.
“Dad passed away and I turned back to the cigarettes again. But I had been having the odd cigarette here and thereafter I had given up so I suppose I was never really away from them,” she said.
She also lost her beloved brother to COPD when he was just 59 in the last couple of years. But Rose said that nursing him through his sickest days and watching as he struggled to breathe still wasn’t enough to get her to stop smoking.
“I knew that I wanted to give up at that stage but I couldn’t do it until I was ready. I didn’t want to set myself up for failure,” said Rose.
So armed with some nicotine patches, lozenges, and a determination to quit once and for all, Rose saw in the New Year without her trusty cigarettes by her side. It hasn’t been easy but, four months on, she hasn’t looked back.
“Now it wasn’t a walk in the park at all. I just kept talking to myself whenever I found myself wanting a cigarette. I found the cigarette in morning the hardest one to skip but I had a lozenge and distracted myself and just got on with it,” she said.
In the evenings, she replaces her time spent after work having cigarettes to relax with a home gym workout and making dinner.
“I have plugged all the gaps in my evening that would have been spent thinking about or having a cigarette. I am keeping busy and not missing the habit,” she said.
She revealed her secret weapon in her fight to quit – a rolled-up cigarette in a box close by.
“It wouldn’t work for everyone but I found that having the cigarette there helped me. They say to get rid of all your cigarettes and all your lighters but I thought that wasn’t for me. I knew I could just walk to the shop and buy them again so it was better to have it there and resist it. And on the day my box of patches ran out, I took out that rolled-up cigarette and I threw it in the bin. It felt fantastic,” said a delighted Rose.
She has begun to see the benefits but acknowledges that it will take a while to undo all the damage done by decades of smoking.
“In the last couple of weeks, I have been seeing that I can finally do the really hard cardio exercises now and not feel like I’m going to collapse. I’m not very vain but I used to look at my non-smoker friends and their skin used to look flawless. I’d have all these smoker’s wrinkles around my face. Now my skin is definitely better and there is even a bit of a glow to it.”
In terms of advice to people thinking about quitting, Rose urged them to examine why they wanted to give up and make sure they were fully ready.
“Don’t do it for financial reasons. Like an alcoholic, a smoker will always find money for cigarettes. Think about the real benefits you will be getting and aim for those. I am looking forward to enjoying the rest of my life now as a non-smoker and having the good health to go with it,” she added.