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As a curious, young teenager Mary McInerney was fascinated by the cigarettes her dad smoked.
Back during a time when smoking was much less frowned upon, Mary’s father would light up in the car before mass, little knowing that his daughter was closely watching his every move.
“I was always mesmerised by the way he used to be able to top the cigarette and keep some of it in the inside of his overcoat pocket for later,” Mary, now 56, remembers.
One day Mary’s curiosity got the better of her and she raided her father’s pockets for his ‘topped’ cigarettes to see what smoking was all about.
“I lit two butts together because I’d only one match,” she laughs. “By the time I’d one smoked, the other had burnt away!’
Mary, from West Limerick, eventually became addicted and smoked for decades until she suddenly got a worrying pain in her chest and ended up in hospital ten years ago.
“The pain wasn’t related to my heart as it happens, thank God, but I was just after reading the Alan Carr book the night before that happened.”
During her illness Mary, who works with the HSE, was confined to hospital for two weeks, without access to cigarettes. However, she knew there were some hidden away in bowl at the top of a cupboard at home – and she made a beeline for them when she was discharged.
“I went looking for them but my husband had taken them and they were gone,” she says.
“I just thought, why spoil it now after I was off them for two weeks’ and so I stopped.”
Mary enjoyed several smoke-free years but when her mother died following a stroke in 2009 she was understandably vulnerable,and susceptible to temptation.
After the funeral she suddenly felt the urge to smoke and asked a visiting relative for a ‘drag’. “One puff of a cigarette was all it took and God did I regret that. I was back buying cigarettes two weeks later. I actually turned out to be a heavier smoker than I had been before.”
Mary knew smoking wasn’t doing her health any favours and the cost was damaging her finances as well. She didn’t plan to stop smoking but one day eight weeks ago an opportunity suddenly presented itself out of the blue.
“I pulled a supplement out of a newspaper and it had an article about lung cancer and I read it,” she says.
“The Quit number was at the bottom of the page and I rang it. I hadn’t planned to give them up that particular day. It just happened but I said to myself ‘I just have to do this’.”
Mary’s new found determination to finally stub out her addiction was boosted by the Quit team. “They’ve given me fantastic support,”she says.
“Rebecca was the girl I was connected with and she’s been very good.” Mary doesn’t hesitate when asked if she’d recommend the Quit team to anybody thinking of giving up.
“Definitely, without a doubt you’ll feel better,” she tells us. “You might eat a little bit more but that’s only because the food tastes better.”
She also has a few tips that have helped her remain smoke free. “A glass of water is a fantastic repellent if you have a craving. Just drink it down fast and it actually takes the craving away. Eating fruit is very good too. I’m not a big fruit eater but I like the little mandarin oranges that you can peel easy, so you’re doing something with your hands as well.”
Mary is delighted to be an e x - smoker again and says the thought of having to give them up all over again is helping her stay smoke free.
“I’m so glad that I don’t have to start giving up again,” she says. “I’ve already started and I mean to keep going, and I feel good about that.”
Mary's story was originally published in the Sunday World.