Out from under the smoke cloud
In summer 2009, Andreena Walton decided to quit smoking at the age of 28, when she saw the effect it was having on her 7 year old daughter Renee. With the support of NHS City and Hackney Stop Smoking Service, she has been smokefree ever since. Her decision to quit changed her life, prompting a series of major changes that included meeting her father for the first time and becoming a stop smoking adviser. This is her story.
Andreena and cigarettes
Andreena’s addiction to smoking started at the young age of 13. “I began smoking because my mum smoked. She smoked because of stress, which made me think from a young age that smoking relieved stress. I was misinformed.”
Her mother would keep a packet of cigarettes in the kitchen drawer, and Andreena would sneak some, being careful to replace it each time.
She started by smoking less than 10 cigarettes per day, but by age 18 she was smoking 15 – 20. “As a teenager smoking, I remember standing outside the off-licence for ages with my loose change, asking for a grown-up to buy me cigarettes. That’s how addicted I was.”
Aged 21, Andreena gave birth to her daughter Renee. She continued smoking while her daughter was young, seeing it as ‘her thing’ because she hardly ever drank or went out.
“Every smoker knows the dangers of smoking, that’s the thing, but until it really affects them, there’s just no real reason to quit. Some people wait until a member of their family has a smoking-related disease.”
For Andreena the turning point was when her daughter came home from primary school aged 7, armed with facts about smoking. “She said: ‘Mummy you’re going to die.’ I would say: ‘We’re all going to die, at some point’, which is not nice to say to a seven year old.”
So Andreena made the life-changing decision to quit smoking while her daughter was away during summer in 2009. “I wanted to correct things, so that when she came back I was there for her, and didn’t have to keep fobbing her off all the time.”
Andreena was working as an administrator at Homerton Hospital, which has a Stop Smoking Service. Her daughter was away for six weeks, so she knew she had the time and support she needed to follow through with her decision.
The quit journey
Andreena’s first step in her quit process was to ring the Stop Smoking Service. She made an appointment to see them that day and smoked her last cigarette before heading along to the appointment. The memory is still crystal clear; smoking the cigarette at an outdoor shelter as she said to herself; “This is it. No more cigarettes from now on.”
The person central to Andreena’s quit process was Christianna Kyriacou, the stop smoking adviser at Homerton Hospital. “Chris was amazing. She changed my whole life”.
They talked through the support available, including medication. For Andreena, patches and gum were the best option. The first week was very difficult, and Andreena had made things harder for herself. She was determined that that she had smoked her last cigarette, while the service actually supports people in the lead up to their quit date.
But with the support of the service, colleagues and friends, Andreena made it through the six week programme smokefree. The highlight was when her daughter Renee returned from her holiday.
“She noticed straight away, because when I picked her up from the airport, she said, ‘Mummy you’re not smoking’. I felt a big sense of achievement then. I had gone a whole six weeks without having a cigarette. And I just took every day at a time, and just carried on.”
Her proudest memento of this journey is her certificate from the stop smoking service, saying she had been smoke-free since 24 July 2009. “This marks the beginning of my journey. That’s what it is, you are smoke-free. I just feel free from it. I’ve done so much because I just feel so free to do so much.”
She has been smoke-free for almost six years, and can already see the positive impact on her relationship with her daughter. “I wasn’t a good parent as a smoker, but I’m more focused on Renee. I have more money to take her places, and if she comes to me saying ‘Mummy I’ve got homework’, I’ll say ‘Renee come and sit down, we’ll do your homework together’. There is no ‘Renee, go to your room, I’m smoking’. That’s gone.”
“I still take every day as it comes, and I choose not to smoke. It’s a choice that I’ve made. I’m really, really happy.”
The journey doesn’t stop there
Quitting smoking had an amazing impact on Andreena’s whole outlook on life.
So strong was her desire to help others that she took a huge leap of faith. In December 2009, after five months of being smoke-free, she resigned from her permanent job to focus on becoming a stop smoking adviser. This was a tough decision to make in the economic climate, but she has never regretted it for a moment.
Andreena embarked on a courageous journey of up-skilling herself; taking any opportunity she could to help her achieve her goal. She volunteered at the Homerton Hospital’s Stop Smoking Service, helping Christianna with various administration duties whilst she learned about smoking cessation.
Over the following eight months, she completed a 12 week counselling course, helped out at stop smoking stalls and worked a few hours a week at the stop smoking shop in Barking. Her hard work did not go unnoticed. NHS City and Hackney sponsored her to complete the Level 2 and Level 3 training to become a stop smoking adviser. “I am eternally grateful. They changed my life.”
The turning point came in June 2010 when she successfully applied for a stop smoking adviser job at NHS Enfield and NHS Haringey.
“All that experience had helped me get the job. All that driving around here and there, it was very exhausting, but the end result was that I got a job working as full-time stop smoking adviser.”
But the biggest recognition came from her daughter Renee. “She tells all her friends that I’m a stop smoking adviser. She’s just so proud of me.”
Other life changes
Quitting smoking has not just changed Andreena’s career for the better. She describes stopping smoking as like coming out from under a cloud, and everything in her life became clearer.
She decided to meet her father for the first time. Making contact was a huge step, and took a lot of courage. Once she’d got in touch, she also asked him to take part in a paternity test, which confirmed he was her father. “This wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t stop smoking, I can’t explain to you how it’s changed my life. All the pieces of my life that were missing, that I was struggling with, have all come together because I’m not clouded by the smoke.”
Her advice to others
Through her work as a stop smoking adviser, Andreena has now helped hundreds of people to stop smoking. Education is a key element in her job, showing people the dangers of smoking. She says many people are not aware that smoking increases people’s risk of getting a large number of serious and often fatal diseases.
Andreena herself has been physically affected by smoking. She has lost bone density in her gums, which has caused some of her teeth move out of place. The money she saved has been used to pay for private dental treatment.
It helps that she’s able to share her own experience. “Smoking is one of these things that dictates your life, and unless you’ve smoked before, you don’t know. It’s like a curse.”
So what’s her one piece of advice to smokers?
“A lot of people say that smoking relieves stress, and that’s the biggest myth ever. Smoking does not relieve stress. That’s what I tell my clients all the time. No matter who they are, whether they are young, old, male, female. Even non smokers deal with stress as stress is a part of life. Once you get that into your head, the cigarette can then be left in the shop, you don’t need it.”
Andreena says that many people are also just not aware of the range of support available. Through the Hackney Stop Smoking Service you can be prescribed medication which can be tailored to support people’s needs. There are also group clinics or one-to-one support, which prove very effective in helping people quit.
Quitting can make improvements to your lifestyle and health in ways you might not expect.