Giving up smoking

Sue Z

Female
Age at interview: 57

Brief outline: Sue, 57, gave up smoking when she was 54. Sue is White British, works is a researcher, is married with a son. She tried her first cigarette aged 11 but started smoking regularly when she was about 16. She had various attempts at giving up, including stopping when she was pregnant, but then gave up through ‘absolute’ necessity, as she had a pulmonary embolism when she was 54.

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Sue came from a family where all the adults in her family smoked and said it was normal. She says she did ‘the classic thing’ of pinching a fag out of her father’s packet (when she was about 11) and took it to school to smoke later. At 14 she went on a holiday where a much older girl smoked Consulate cigarettes and remembers feeling something like ‘hero worship’. Sue says she started smoking regularly when she was about 16 and says that everyone at college smoked as it was ‘more usual to smoke than not to smoke’. She thinks that as teenagers they smoked more when they were together than when they were apart. Sue used to smoke Gitanes for a long time, which she thought were ‘very sophisticated’.

Eventually, when Sue was 54, she stopped smoking. Before that, she had stopped at various times. She quit when she was pregnant and after her baby was born, and then didn’t smoke for four years after that. As she didn’t drink when she was pregnant, she says that the association between a ‘glass of beer and a cigarette’ wasn’t there to tempt her. Later she started a degree and was ‘surrounded by smokers’, so started again. She felt she always started again when she was stressed or when ‘something big happened’ that she felt she had ‘no control over’. Now she sees this as a ‘repeating pattern’. She sometimes gave up because ‘someone else’ thought she should be giving up, and says that doesn’t really work as a strategy. She talks about the ways she rationalised smoking and said that she saw smoking as part of who she was. Sue says that it wasn’t just a case of stopping smoking but also changing other parts of her as well – she says that she often met really interesting people outside having a cigarette. When she stopped she missed having breaks with her colleagues.

Sue says she gave up through ‘absolute necessity’ when she had a pulmonary embolism. She was in hospital, couldn’t move out of bed and was on oxygen. She said she ‘wasn’t smoking at the moment’ i.e. that she hadn’t definitely given up, for a long time afterwards. She felt that it might be hard spending time with one of her close friends who still smoked now she herself had given up. Sue says the last time she gave up the smoking ban wasn’t in force, so it was easy to have ‘the odd one’ in a pub and then find herself smoking again. People told her she would ‘taste things better’ and ‘feel healthier’ but this hasn’t happened. She thought she ‘broke the back of it’ in hospital. She ‘bristled’ when junior doctors told her she couldn’t smoke, as she thought she understood the dangers of smoking. Looking back now she thinks that women she knew gave up earlier than men, because they sometimes stopped when they were pregnant.

Sue thinks that health campaigns are targeted too much towards the individual and not enough at the tobacco companies. Sue thinks that although quit lines are helpful, she has noticed that some friends have replaced one habit (smoking) with another (patches). She thinks that smoking is a calculated risk that people take.

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