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Column 'If I could go back in time, I never would've put that first cigarette in my mouth'

On National No Smoking Day, Joan Conway tells how she gave up smoking at 45 – after first taking up the habit at the tender age of 17.

TO MARK NATIONAL No Smoking Day, ex-smoker Joan Conway tells how she finally kicked her decades-long dependency on cigarettes – and how she’s never felt better.

I SMOKED FOR 28 years before I decided to give up cigarettes. I smoked from the age of 17 right up until last January. I used to smoke 20-30 cigarettes a day. I remember well the day I picked up my first cigarette. After having my first child at 17,  I had to stay at home and mind her. That was when I started smoking. Every other mother I met in the area smoked so they could de-stress. It was really a social thing – we would go have a cup of tea, a chat and a cigarette. So I used to smoke with them and before I knew it I was hooked.

My first cigarette

I always worked but the last few years my health hasn’t been as good as it used to be and I began to notice problems with my circulation. I was diagnosed with Raynaud’s syndrome. Someone told me that when they stopped smoking their circulation problems improved, so that was the first thing that made me think seriously about quitting. Also, there was the fact that I couldn’t afford them. I was actually buying market cigarettes at one point, as I couldn’t afford them anywhere else. I was buying a carton of these cheap cigarettes that would do me a week and they weren’t even a  brand that I liked. It was just so I could continue smoking.

Last year, my circulation got worse around Christmas. It was so cold and my hands were in a lot of pain. I just couldn’t go out with it. I knew I had to improve my situation, so I decided – once and for all – to give up the smokes. I said to myself “I can do this”.

My first port of call was my GP. I knew this was something I couldn’t do on my own. He gave me nicotine patches and as it was around January, there was a lot of publicity about the National Smokers’ Quit Line, so I called them and asked for help. They were a great help to me. They sent me a out a pack with booklets of information and they were also very good at keeping me going. They would ring me regularly to see how I was getting on and they just really supported me throughout the whole thing.

I got great support from my doctor too, and that’s important. You can’t get through it without the support of others.  I needed it too, as the rest of my family all smoked.

Being social

Smoking, for me, started out as a very social thing to do. It’s interesting just how much that has changed. Now it is the complete opposite. I think the smoking ban being introduced has made a huge difference. What is important is that the message about just how bad smoking is and just how difficult it is to quit gets out into the public realm. More and more women are smoking, and this is a real problem.

In my opinion, I think young girls are taking up smoking to keep down their weight. People used to tell me when I was smoking that I looked great and then when I stopped I started to put weight on. I was told by my doctor that when you quit smoking your metabolism changes. But it’s all about your health and smoking just isn’t good for you. Still, I think that women worry about their weight. It sounds superficial but it seems to be a big issue for young girls, particularly. I remember myself what it was like, when I used to smoke before I would eat.

Another thing that people don’t like to hear is how much I loved smoking – and many people do love it. No matter how much you tell them it isn’t good for them, it doesn’t matter. They will only quit when they want to. My own daughter is a very health-conscious girl. She is very active, she loves sports, she loves going to the gym, but she still smokes.


I’m not going to lie; quitting smoking is difficult and most people fall down at some point. I had one lapse in the last six months. I went to a social event and I was the only one who didn’t smoke. When they all went outside to have a cigarette, I went out with them. I spent the night puffing away. The next day I had the cigarette packet in my bag and I just threw them out. I thought – “I’ve done that now, now that’s done”.

I always thought after I gave them up that I was missing something and, obviously, I was – the nicotine, nothing more. I had to go there to know that I had done the right thing by giving them up. I was able to throw them away and never look back. There are times you think you would like one, a little craving comes over you – that’s where willpower comes in.

It was difficult, but it was very worth it as I am healthy now. I walk about four miles every day. I used to get out of breath, but I never do now. If I could go back in time, I never would have put that first cigarette in my mouth. I wish I never started. It’s so the important for me now to get that message across to people.

It’s especially important for the young people to hear people like me speak about this, so they can hear the regret I have about ever starting. It really just isn’t worth it.

Joan Conway is from Athy, County Kildare.

If you would like more information on how to quit smoking please call the National Smokers’ QuitLine on 1850 201 203. It’s a free service, manned by quit counsellors who will give advice, information and support. This service is provided by the Irish Cancer Society in partnership with the HSE. For further information please visit ASH Ireland or The Irish Cancer Society.

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