Worried children help 40-a-day mum quit smoking
5 January 2009
Mum Jo Carter smoked up to 40 cigarettes a day for 30 years until, spurred on by her worried children, she finally managed to beat her habit. Here, the family recalls the toll it took on them.
My son’s clothes used to smell so badly of smoke the teachers would accuse him of having a cigarette behind the bike sheds.
They’d pull Mathew aside and he’d have to tell them: “It’s my mum!”
Yet instead of dying of shame – and giving up on the spot, I turned it into a joke and said: “So you didn’t mention your dad smoking then!”
That’s what addiction does to you.
Because your kids are the most precious things in the world, it’s too painful to admit you’re damaging them, too.
I was 10 when I had my first cigarette. I always knew the risks – I’d seen my grandfather die from smoking-related heart disease. But my philosophy was: “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”
Over the years, I’d always manage to give up while I was pregnant.
But as soon as my babies were born I would go back.
My eldest, Andrew, is 20 now and back then no one talked about the dangers of passive smoking. Even when it became an issue, I thought I was protecting the children by not smoking directly over them.
When the kids kissed me goodbye before school, I’d turn my head away and blow the smoke out first.
I would get so desperate that I would send my eldest, then 11, to buy cigarette papers.
But even worse was the fact that I smoked around my son Stephen, now 15. He was a very sickly baby. At three he was hospitalised with breathing problems.
As a mother it’s terrible to see your son gasp for breath. Not even the bigger warnings on cigarette packets frightened me. But they did scare the kids. They became adamant that I should give up.
A few years ago when I called a meeting to ask them to tidy up, Andrew, turned around and said: “We’d also like to you to stop smoking in the house because it smells and it’s bad for you.” I was shocked but still I’d turn it back on them.
If they nagged, I’d say: “I’m only smoking in the kitchen now but you still haven’t tidied your room, so why should I do what you say?”
My middle son Thomas also has a habit of sucking his fingers. He’d shoot back: “At least what I’m putting in my mouth isn’t killing me!”
That’s my biggest regret – arguing with my kids when all they wanted was for me to be healthy.
It was only when Stephen’s asthma returned with a vengeance when he was about 11 that it finally dawned what it was doing to me, too.
When Stephen went to the doctor’s to get his lung capacity checked, I asked if I could try it.
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I was stunned to be told mine was lower than his. Straight away I turned to the nurse and said: “Where can I get help to give up?”
That was last year. My partner Russell has given up, too.
But I don’t describe myself as an ex-smoker. I describe myself as someone who hasn’t had a cigarette for six months.
For 30 years, I smoked up to 40 a day.
But I’d say to other parents, it’s never too late to repair some of the damage you’ve done to yourself – or your kids.
Mum doesn’t cough any more: Bethany Carter-Woodhead, 11
At the dentist’s, I would see the poster on the wall saying how bad for you smoking is.
It was a picture of a big, black cancer in someone’s mouth. It would give me nightmares because my mum smoked a lot and I knew she could get it, too.
As soon as I was old enough I would read the warnings on her cigarettes. The one that said Smoking Kills was the easiest but it also scared me the most.
Even though I was frightened, I didn’t think I could ask Mum to stop, because she’s a grown-up. But when the TV ads came on, me and my brothers learned the words by heart.
We said them out loud, too, especially the one about: “I’m afraid of my mum smoking.”
I liked it because it gave children a chance to say something.
Now I am glad all the smoke’s gone. The house smells nicer. And my mum is different. Her voice has changed and she doesn’t cough any more.
Her teeth are whiter, which makes her prettier, too!
I couldn’t sleep worrying she’d die: Stephen Carter-Woodhead, 15
When my teacher asked me to pick a science project, I decided on anti-smoking because my mum smoked so much.
Before that I knew cigarettes give you cancer and they affect your lungs but it didn’t mean all that much to me. Then I went on Google and found horrible pictures of what it does to the insides of your lungs.
But it’s when I learned how quickly smokers can die from cancer that I really got scared. That night I couldn’t sleep, worrying: “What if Mum dies? It could happen really soon.”
Afterwards, when I saw her smoke, I’d drop scary facts into the conversation, although I always tried to keep what I was really feeling to myself.
I don’t blame her for smoking. She told me she got addicted very young.
It is frightening having asthma – and not being able to breathe – but I don’t blame her. I’m just glad she’s given up – and so proud that she’s found the willpower to stick at it.
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