MOTHER-of-one and former chain-smoker Arzu Anderson is poised to help Swindonians quit by sharing her own battle with and ultimate victory over her tobacco addiction.
The 46-year-old, from Priory Vale, trained as an advisor at the Swindon Stop Smoking Service after giving up the habit and hopes her story will inspire others to follow her example ahead of national No Smoking Day, on Wednesday, March 12.
This year the day of action has a ‘V for Victory’ theme and is set to encourage scores of smokers to stub out their habit for good.
“I was totally addicted for years and let the habit rule my entire life,” she said. “So I’m proof you really can give up. If I did it, believe me, anyone can.
“I don’t underestimate how hard it is, having been through it myself, and without structured help it’s even harder.
“You’re four times more likely to succeed with support, so make sure you give yourself the best chance.”
One in five adults still smokes in Swindon, although about two thirds of smokers want to quit.
Arzu started smoking as an engineering student, aged 17, when she lived in Turkey.
“Smoking was very much the culture and I could easily get through two packets a day, especially during exams,” she said.
“After graduating I moved to the UK. Back then you could still smoke on planes and I remember booking my seat at the back to do so. I became an au pair and even though I didn’t smoke around the children, I had no intention of giving up. I liked it and was totally dependent.”
It was only when Arzu became a mother that the truly harmful impact of smoking dawned on her. By this time she had moved to Swindon and was working as a design engineer at Tyco Electronics.
“I started to hate myself for smoking now I had a baby who needed me. I remember running out of cigarettes and having to walk to the shop with the pram, and detesting the whole thing – wasting the money, the horrible smell. I always washed my hands, but the guilt was still there,” she said.
Determined to give up for her son Aidan, now 14, Arzu sought help from her GP.
“I was pointed towards a group support session at the Link Centre and also prescribed tablets. It set me on the right path, but the support and medication out now is much more advanced,” she said.
“I also had my son to keep me motivated. Suddenly I realised it was crazy to keep playing Russian roulette with my life, now he relied on me. I simply couldn’t let him down, so I did it for him.”
Although Arzu still occasionally still thinks about smoking, she has not lit a cigarette since and over the years it has become easier.
“I don’t think about it much now, whereas before I never even imagined I could live without it. But it is an ongoing battle and you’ve got to keep reminding yourself of all the benefits – more money, being able to breathe properly and of course being there for your kid’s future. All these things made me recognise I’d be mad to go back to it.”
The opportunity to help other smokers stub out the habit came by chance. Arzu was made redundant and used the money to fund her retraining to become a psychologist. Five years ago Arzu started clinics for smokers in Swindon and now works for the Stop Smoking Service.
“Lots of people say they wish they had done it much sooner. So many smokers want to stop, but just don’t think it’s possible because cigarettes are a crutch they rely on. Just talking things through and providing that encouragement goes a long way,” she said.
“People are very appreciative and say things like I’ve saved their life, which is wonderful.” I see people of all ages, although they are usually older and prompted by a health issue or, like me, considering the impact it has on their children.”
In Swindon, many smokers will experience years of poor health, with about 1,700 suffering from a smoking-related disease each year.
The cost of smoking-related hospital admissions in Swindon will reach £6.9 million this year, according to the London Health Observatory Local Tobacco Control Profiles.
Smoking is estimated to cost Swindon £1.4 million a year in terms of additional GP consultations, £119,000 in nurse consultations, and over £858,000 in additional prescription costs, according to the NICE Tobacco Control Return on Investment tool.
Every year, second-hand smoke exposure is responsible for 500 childhood disease in Swindon, according to research by the Royal College of Physicians.
Smoking remains the single biggest cause of preventable disease and premature death in the UK. It will claim the life of one in every two smokers.
21 per cent of the adult population in Swindon still smoke.
This year it is forecast that smoking will cost 260 lives in Swindon.
A survey of more than 1,000 people across the South West shows that more than a quarter (27 per cent) of smokers in Swindon and Wiltshire said they were worried that they won’t live long enough to support loved ones in times of need.
And nine out of 10 (93 per cent) of smokers’ families and friends want them to quit.