Paul at the Key Changes studio in Hackney. (credit Dan Clarke at Key Changes)

Paul at the Key Changes studio in Hackney. (credit Dan Clarke at Key Changes)

30 year old Paul Carlson (aka Mowgs) is keen to tell the world he’s quit smoking and to inspire others to do the same.

So keen in fact that he’s written a rap song about it and has plans to make a video to accompany it.

"Writing a rap song has given me more will power."

Paul first started smoking aged 16, when he was still at school. First it was 5-10 cigarettes a day, but as he got older it increased to 30 a day.

Art and music has put me on a creative journey. It’s a path I don’t want to fall off. Life has never been so good as it is now.
I used to save my lunch money so I could smoke.

In his late teens, Paul got into trouble with the law and ended up in prison. However, he decided to make the most of his time inside and develop his skills as a portrait artist and do sketches of other inmates. Soon his talent and his reputation grew. However, instead of getting paid cash for the drawings, he was paid in cigarettes.

When he came out of prison, he was transferred to the East London Foundation Trust (ELFT), an acute hospital for patients suffering from mental ill health. Having gone smoke-free in January 2016, ELFT no longer facilitated smoking breaks and so the only time inpatients could smoke was when they were allowed out on short periods of leave each day.

During leave, I chain smoked 6 or 7 cigarettes in one hour, which made me wheezy and made it harder to breathe when I went to the gym.   
The sessions were really helpful. Every time I did the test, I could see my levels go down which really motivated me.

After discharge from hospital, Paul decided to get help to quit smoking. He went to his local GP to ask for advice and was transferred to the Hackney Stop Smoking Service. He then received regular support from a specialist stop smoking advisor as well as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help with the urges to smoke. Each time Paul met his advisor, she used a carbon monoxide monitor to measure his levels of the poisonous gas.

Paul’s passion and talent for art and music has been key to his success at remaining smokefree. He came into contact with Key Changes, an organisation that uses music to engage and help in the recovery of people experiencing mental health problems. Through their encouragement and support, he’s written a rap song – Dirty Habit - about his experience of giving up smoking and which is boosting his will power to remain smoke-free. He’s also got his reputation to think about.

You can’t start smoking again when you’ve written a song about giving up!

He’s also attending a course in print making techniques at Core Arts, another organisation that promotes positive mental health and wellbeing through creative learning.

I have more energy and can breathe when I go to the gym. And I can really taste the food I eat.

Paul’s noticed how quitting smoking has had a real impact on his finances – he’s been saving £160 a month and now has more money to spend on himself on things like new clothes, more expensive food and a gym pass. 

Paul is now focussing on developing his career in art and music and is loving life. He has an upcoming event at the Royal Academy for disabled artists and creative people facing barriers accessing the art world to share their practice with others. Paul will be one of ten artists discussing their artistic inspirations and creative processes while showing images of finished artworks or projects in process. These will include a painting of Amy Winehouse which Paul has done from a photo.

Quitting can make improvements to your lifestyle and health in ways you might not expect.

Smoking and your health›

Thinking about the reasons to quit is a great way to motivate yourself.

Why quit?›

Medications and nicotine replacement can double the chances of quitting smoking.

How to quit›