independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

My daughter asked 'What will we do if you die?'

Christina Hartnett is quitting cigarettes with the help of a new initiative, writes Edel Coffey

Quitting smoking can often be more about mindset than willpower
Quitting smoking can often be more about mindset than willpower

For many people, giving up smoking successfully has more to do with mindset than with willpower. They get sick, a friend gets a bad diagnosis, or they suddenly have an epiphany that what they're doing is damaging they're health.

For Christina Hartnett Dalton, from Ballyhooley in Cork but now living in Kinvara in Galway, it was something her eight-year-old daughter said. Last year, Christina's daughter Rhiannon said, "what will we do if you die? Please try."

Christina gave up cigarettes for six months but a thoughtless comment made her take up smoking again. On holidays with her husband, Paul, and their daughter and five-year-old son Seamie, they were out for dinner.

They asked for a table for four but the waiter said they only had a table for five. A waitress said a table for five was fine as the family was technically five as she thought Christina was clearly pregnant.

But Christina was not pregnant, she was just carrying the extra weight she had put on after giving up smoking. She immediately left the restaurant and bought a pack of cigarettes.

The comment had been doubly hurtful to Christina because she and Paul had had fertility problems and gone through IVF without conceiving. They adopted their children from Vietnam.

"People make comments and don't realise. I just said 'I have to have a cigarette' and I smoked for the two weeks of the holiday. I said, when I go back I'll give up."

But when they got back home, she couldn't give up.

By now, Christina had smoked for 25 years and this year, she finally made the decision to quit, in conjunction with 'Operation Transformation' and Boots' Stop for Good Service.

Like many teenagers, Christina started smoking because everyone else was doing it. "My friends and my older brothers and sisters were smoking. Everyone smoked. My mother never smoked and always said, if 'I ever catch you I'll kill you', but that wasn't really a deterrent. I thought it was cool, I thought I'd try it.

"They were rotten, horrible things and I think I probably wasn't really smoking for about a year but I persevered. And you could buy 10 cigarettes back then too, you could smoke in a restaurant, you could smoke in your office. I remember in my first job there was a lady there who had a huge glass ashtray on her desk and she smoked non-stop. And nobody minded."

When she was 22, Christina developed asthma. "I gave up cigarettes but the temptations were everywhere. So I started smoking a weaker brand. I was thinking if I smoked a weaker brand it wasn't as bad. Every time I'd go back on the cigarettes, I'd go back on a lighter brand.

"When you're 22 or 23, there aren't really any side-effects you can see. You're young and you're fit and healthy, it's not as important. When I was that age I felt it would be fine if I just went on a weaker brand."

There have been many indicators of smoking in her life. "You hate smoking, you know they're bad for you, it's bad. Of course, my teeth aren't as white as they used to be, my voice has changed, it's that smoker's voice." She also has mild asthma, which has led to increasing shortness of breath.

When she applied for 'Operation Transformation', she was instead invited to try the Stop For Good smoking cessation programme with Boots and she said yes. The service was developed in 2010 in partnership with Trinity College Dublin.

Best of all, it is a free service that you can get in your local Boots chemist. It takes 12 weeks to complete, with carbon monoxide testing and regular check-ins with an advisor.

The programme promises that within one day, a former smoker's risk of heart attack begins to fall, within two days they will have a better sense of taste and smell and will feel more energetic, within three to nine months their lung function increases and after a year, their risk of dying suddenly from heart attack is almost halved.

Faced with those statistics, Christina made an appointment online at boots.ie/stopforgood. In advance of going to her appointment, she completed a smoking diary and had to think about the reasons she smoked and how she was going to stop for good.

'I met with Deirdre in Boots in Galway and went through the programme. It makes you sit down and think you'll have to do something different. You can't do will power only. It didn't work for me the last time.

"You have to ask yourself why you want to give up smoking. What will you do if you go back smoking? When you have a day where you want to have a cigarette, you have to think of those reasons, the ones that made you give up in the first place."

Is she worried about putting on weight again, considering it was a tactless comment about her weight that triggered her return to smoking last year? "That's where 'Operation Transformation' comes in. You can't replace cigarettes with food. I've lost six pounds so far. Just drink lots of water, and have plenty of nuts and seeds.

"I went to a health food shop for that advice. A lovely lady there went through it all with me and told me not to eat a lot of nuts because they're really fattening but to just throw a lot of seeds in a bag with just a few nuts and snack on those."

Already, Christina has noticed improvements in her health. "I had a terrible cough, and it seems to have disappeared already, and I'm only on day 10. The cough is gone. If you have asthma, your medication isn't as effective if you smoke."

Approaching giving up smoking in a mindful way – thinking about managing the addiction, putting in place new habits – is the best part for Christina. She says keeping a smoking diary has helped her to really understand why she smokes and has given her ways of coping with the challenge ahead.

"It helped me think about what am I going to do differently. I started doing yoga and I find that brilliant for my mind. I've never done it before. I would never sit into my car now without my water, nuts, seeds, nicorette, mints, my inhaler. Patches never worked for me. I tried hypnotherapy and that didn't work.

"This time I just feel my mind is right. You have to have it in your head. There's just no reason good enough to stay smoking."

For more information see boots.ie/stopforgood

Irish Independent

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