Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Smoking.  Smoking is the single biggest risk factor for lung cancer and is a contributory risk factor in a number of other cancers.

From the beginning smoking was a cool thing to do.  It was certainly branded as being that way.  Gerry Collins, the face and voice in the current HSE stop smoking campaign (link to ad) said so himself on the Ray D’Arcy show Monday 13th January 2014.

“It was cool to smoke.  [sic]  Pure cool.  [sic]  I don’t recall any negative press.  Even if you recall all the movies, all the Hollywood movies, all the superstars.  They were all out there just smoking cigarettes, promoting it, glamorous, sophisticated, cool.  Do you know what I mean?”   

Gerry Collins

Gerry Collins, the former Dublin footballer, has been given just months to live having being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.  Ironically Gerry had overcome throat cancer in 2008 and participated in the HSE’s 2011 Quit campaign. 

A non-smoker all of my life I find it very hard to understand how anyone would suck smoke into their lungs, willingly or otherwise, and “tear the throat” off themselves in the process.
I know plenty of people who smoke.  I know people who have since died as a direct result of their habit.  But I also know plenty of people who have managed to kick the habit.

On November 21st 2013, The Irish Times published an article in which the Irish were found to be near the top of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development) table when it comes to smoking.

A more recent report in The Irish Examiner, January 18th 2014 stated that those who do not smoke but are exposed to second hand fumes face an increased risk of stroke.  All of this is according to a major US government report.

Irrespective of which continent you light up in, I think it can be agreed across the board everyone today is aware of the dangers of smoking.   

In light of Gerry Collins and the effect his story is having I spoke to several people who were good enough to answer my questions about why they ever started smoking in the first place.

In the first of a new series entitled Smoking, I would like to introduce you to my first participants.

The Smoker.   Cormac aged 41 

What do you smoke; cigarettes, roll ups or electronic cigarettes?
“Roll ups.”

Do you enjoy it?
“Yes.  It relaxes me.”

How old were you when you had your first smoke?
14. Me and a friend stole cigarettes from our parents and grandparents.” 

What influenced you to take that first cigarette?
“Because I wasn’t allowed to.  Smoking was illicit.”

Did your parents know you smoked?  How did they find out?  What was their reaction?
“They found out about 6 months later.  My mother smelled it from me and also discovered my stash at home.  She confronted me about it and explained how hard it was to quit once you started and I was too young.”   

Did your parents smoke?  Do you think their smoking had an influence on you starting?
“Yes.  No, I don’t think so as the vast majority of people smoked at the time anyway. “

What do you think about the current HSE non-smoking campaign with Gerry Collins?  Do you think it will have an effect?
“I haven’t seen it but I have heard Gerry Collins speaking.  I have seen snippets on YouTube.  It’s an excellent ad.  One of their better ones.  And I think it’s great that it’s a real person.  He reminds me of my mother who died of lung cancer.”

What about packaging?  Do you think this is encouraging people to smoke?
“It doesn’t encourage existing smokers.  But packaging would have influenced me as a child.  An American brand was introduced at the time I started smoking and every young fella wanted a pack because they were linked to cowboys.  Today there is less advertisement of smoking so not encouraging in the same way.” 

What are your thoughts on the more graphic images on the packs today?
“I hate them.  I hate them.  I don’t like the idea of my children being exposed to the images.  I don’t think they are particularly effective in stopping people smoking but maybe they work on a sub-conscious level.  I have regularly sent back the image of the guy with the cancerous tumour on his neck in favour of the shrivelled apple.  But the kids have asked me questions particularly about the pictures of children – the ones with the young baby and the boy on the oxygen mask.”

What would you say to someone today who is thinking about starting smoking?
“Don’t.  The same thing my mother said to me.  Don’t.”

The Non Smoker.  Laura aged 26

What do you think about the current HSE non-smoking campaign with Gerry Collins? Do you think it will have an effect?

“It doesn't really affect me.  I think it might frighten people off the smokes for a short period of time and then they'll forget about the ad.” 

Why do you think you never smoked? Did your friends? Did you experience peer pressure to start?

“I didn't really hang around with anyone that smoked so I was never pushed into trying it.  I think I was in school around the time people started to realise that smoking wasn't "cool".   I would rather spend my money on something else.”

What do you think about the smoking ban in pubs?

“I think it's good, at least it gives the people that don't smoke an environment where they don't have to be subjected to the fumes. Most good pubs have a smoking area outside to accommodate the smokers. Having said that I usually end up out in the smoking area anyway because that's where everyone seems to go!!! Kind of defeats the purpose really!”

The Electronic Smoker.  Michael aged 27

Today there is a smoker’s alternative available.  Otherwise known as the electronic cigarette which enables people to enjoy smoking, or “vaping” as it’s known, without the harmful effects of tobacco smoke. 

Already concerns have been raised in relation to its safety but a lot of people believe it is better to “vape” nicotine than inhale it directly.  Much the same as those who chew Nicorette gum view it is advantageous over smoking.

How old were you when you first started to smoke?

“Maybe around 15.”

Do you regret it?


What do you think of the electronic cigarette?

“It’s a good alternative to other things available on the market for those who are trying to stop smoking. I think it's good for certain individuals who don't mind the artificial feel and look of it.”

Do you find it good?

“It worked for a while, but I think that was mostly because I wanted to stop. I didn't enjoy using it, and had a few slip ups on nights out.”  

Is it cheaper?

“Much cheaper.”

Is it helping you to quit?

“I don't use it anymore.  I had a few over Christmas but stopped come New Year and haven't had one since, without using the E-cig.”

Do you enjoy smoking either the real thing or the electronic?

“Prefer the real thing.”

What would you say to someone who is thinking of starting?


What does your girlfriend think of your smoking?

“She didn’t like it because of the smell, and also because of the health implications and the fact that it's a waste of money.”

Is she happy that you are “vaping?”

“Yes.  She thought it was a good idea while I was doing it to keep me distracted from going back to the real thing.”

To speak to a specialist cancer nurse, Freephone the national Cancer Helpline on 1800 200 700. Monday – Thursday 9am – 7pm & Friday 9am – 5pm.


  1. Great idea for a series. I think it must be so hard for someone who started smoking in their early teens to quit.

  2. I am so glad I never started. I do think if your parents smoke there is a greater chance of you smoking but that is not a scientifically supported statement on my part. I don't think the adds or anything else stop or deter people. I was a nurse. Most of my friends began smoking while working on the very ward where almost all patients were there because they smoked.