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Published: 19 June 2024

Penelope Wilson shares her experience of going smokefree with One You Kent

I was a good smoker. In fact, I excelled at it from the time I stuck a Vogue silk-tipped cigarette into my mouth, aged 16. By 63 and following a 40-year international journalism career,  I could smoke anything. I smoked my way through a skin melanoma, a melanoma in my eyeball, the onset of macular degeneration, the onslaught of anti-smoking campaigns and horrific pictures of ghastly smoking-related diseases on the mountain of cigarette packets I accumulated.

I promised to give up before my second marriage but then took it up again a few weeks later, despite the risk to love and life. Yup, I did smoking better than anything else I’d ever done in my life. I associated it with everything I did, that morning coffee, the ‘reward’ for doing some task, that after meal fag satisfaction. I firmly believed I could never give up.

The crunch came with one of those pesky health checks the NHS calls you in for. You know, the one where a nurse asks you a bunch of questions: how much exercise you get, how many greens you eat, how much you drink and smoke. I hated them because I am rebellious by nature. I don’t think I’m thick, I know my own body. I thought the questions were banal and anyway, I do a lot of walking, gardening, DIY, and eating of good green stuff.

So anyway, there I was, and the nurse wrestled the answers out of monosyllabic me and she got concerned. Then she packed me off for blood and lung tests.  And voila, the NHS Lung Health Team got hold of me with a questionnaire about my dark smoking past and they just wouldn’t let go. One lung scan later and there lurked the very early signs of emphysema and a node, which later turned out to be just a node but hey who knows, that could still turn. Or not.

That, ladies and gentlemen, was the turning point. As I waited for my appointment in the hospital chamber of horrors aka the scanning room, two women walked by, both pulling their oxygen tanks behind them. Give it time, that could be me. I was fast tracked by the Lung Health team to the One You Kent Smokefree Service and I tell you, I couldn’t get there fast enough.

I was terrified of quitting! My One You Kent adviser, Diane Jones, was calm. She empathised with my worries, she’d seen it all before and said we’d work through the triumphs and failures together. She told me stories of other hopeless cases who’d beaten this monster.

First, Diane assured me, there was no shame in substituting cigarettes for vapes, or patches, or pills or a myriad of other aids all available for free. I opted for vapes and patches and used them to get through the first week. I nearly made it through another week before my vape stopped working and I said: “Sod it. I’ll buy some fags and start again.” I smoked a few, thought: “This is ridiculous.” and ordered two back-up vapes within minutes. Then I had to face Diane. I liked Diane. I didn’t want to disappoint her and ruin her week. I’d already ruined mine. But when I ‘fessed up’ she remained calm. She reeled off a few figures of people who messed up, who regained their fight and won, who told me I wasn’t alone and what to do if I ever got to that stage again. Most of all she told me I could call her anytime I felt I was heading for a slippery slope. It was like being hugged by Mum in a warm kitchen and wanting to be a good, wholesome, nice-smelling girl all over again. And besides, I was enjoying not smelling of smoke, not having to spend oodles of cash on mouthwash, mints and sprays any more. I was enjoying the extra cash in my bank account, not being banished to the far end of the garden at parties, not worrying about the deterioration in my skin, and not having to hide the extent of my addiction from friends and family.

Here I am still ‘clean’ a few months later. I’ve had the time and the energy to revamp my entire garden, to iron every item in my wardrobe, to walk for miles, to book special holidays and raid Vinted with the extra cash I’ve got, and to map out a book I’ve wanted to write forever.

My non-smoking husband cannot believe he now lives with an ex-smoker. I feel like I’ve climbed Everest, but I’ve had a lot of crampons. Hats off and many thanks to the marvellous Lung Health team, One You Kent and to my superb adviser Diane Jones.

Sounds trite, but One You really has got this whole thing completely right. I seriously couldn’t have done it without them. I know how much work, training and resources must have gone into this service. My praise cannot ever be high enough.

If Penny's blog has inspired you to start your smokefree life, get in touch with One You Kent by phoning 0300 123 1220 or via email