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Smokefree - Real People Real Stories

Despite the known dangers, tobacco smoking continues to be the leading cause of preventable death and disease, killing around 5,000 New Zealanders every year.  16% of adults currently smoke in New Zealand with rates for Maori at 35%, Pacific people at 25% and youth 18-24 years at 20%

The ‘Real People, Real Stories’ campaign profiles local people from around Otago and Southland who are living with serious long-term health effects from smoking.  People will hear from the ‘walking wounded’, those who, for example, struggle to breathe, are unable to walk upstairs.  Their voice of experience may well motivate people to start their journey to freedom from nicotine addiction.

Hayley

Hayley, 51 from Dunedin first tried smoking when she was 12 years old and by the time she 15 and working, she was a smoking heavily.  Hayley says over the years smoking just became part of her life.  “Everyone was smoking”.

In 2014 Hayley was diagnosed with a lung disease.  She was coughing a lot and on inhalers to help her breathe.  For a period of time Hayley was in denial about the harm smoking was having on her health, and the more family and friends told her she should stop, the more she dug her heels in and continued to smoke.  Hayley did eventually try to stop smoking.  “Giving up smoking wasn’t an easy thing.  It took me a lot of goes” says Hayley.  She tried hypnosis, nicotine gum and lozenge.  They didn’t work.  Champix did however help her eventually, on the second go.  On 15 March 2016, Hayley was smokefree.

The damage to Hayley’s lungs was already done and by 2017 she was on morphine to help with her breathing.  By 2018 Hayley was attached to an oxygen machine for 16 hours every day.  The eight hours each day off the machine Hayley would try and do regular activities like watching her children play sport.  However, it usually became too cold for her and she would end up having to sit in the car.  “Life was so restricted - I felt like an embarrassment to my children”. 

Hayley went on the transplant list for new lungs, and in October 2018 she had a double lung transplant.  Her family were nervous about the operation but Hayley was excited about all the possibilities new lungs would give her.  Hayley describes the first breath she took when she came around after the operation as being amazing - “I did not struggle.” 

Today Hayley is off all the oxygen and so appreciative of her new life.  Her medical team says she is ready to go back to work part-time.  “To be able to go outside and do things is wonderful.  I appreciate life so much more now.  I do regret smoking but I can’t change that I did, so I am not going to dwell on it.  Looking forward is important.  I have a life now, and I am going to make the most of it,” says Hayley

Murray 

Murray, 70 from Dunedin first dabbled in smoking when he was around 10 years old.  His dad smoked and everyone that came to the house smoked.  By the time he was 14 Murray was smoking heavily.  “I was working and earning money and this enabled me to smoke.  There was no stigma about smoking in those days, and it was one of those things that was around and you just did it.”

It was in the 1990s that Murray started to notice he was getting a bit short of breath.  He initially put it down to doing too much exercise.  In 1995 he was given the diagnosis of emphysema and over time his health progressively got worse.  In 2008 Murray had a complete blowout with his lungs and could not breathe.  “If someone had told me to jump off the roof to get a breath of air I probably would have done that - that’s how bad it was.”  Murray was given two choices.  The first to carry on smoking and not live much longer, the second to stop smoking and make life a bit better for himself.  Murray chose to stop smoking.  “I couldn’t breathe and I just stopped.  It would have been foolish of me to continue to smoke.”

In late 2008 Murray needed an operation due to a back injury, but because of his emphysema he was told the operation would be extremely risky.  He was given a one in 100 chance of surviving the operation.  “I had a flashback - this is what smoking has done to me.” Murray went ahead with the operation and fortunately it was successful. 

After the operation Murray joined an exercise group run by Asthma Otago.  “I was struggling to walk up a very small incline.  I couldn’t walk very far.”  However Murray continued to exercise and gradually could do more and more. 

Murray now has to take multiple medications.  All the steroids he is on have played havoc on his bones, and as a result he now has osteoporosis.  He is often told to be very careful not to break any bones.  While having bone scans all Murray could think about was all this from smoking.  “Looking back, it really wasn’t worth it.  It is unbelievable all the medications I am on – for my lungs, brain, breathing.  Every month I get a prescription with at least 16 items on it, all associated with my lungs.”

The emphysema has had a big impact on Murray’s life.  He used to be very active, enjoying fishing and walking for miles.  That has all had to stop. His wife has also been impacted. “If I try to have a shower she has to be there to make sure I am okay.  I really need someone there all the time.”  Second-hand smoke impacts on Murray too.  “We go to watch my granddaughter play sport and if someone is smoking I admit I do struggle when breathing in the smoke.” 

Today, Murray continues to manage his emphysema with medication and by keeping as active as possible.  “I smoked most of my life until I gave up smoking 12 years ago, and I’m now reaping the benefits of being smokefree.  I’m keeping active, renovating my house and getting out with the grandkids,” says Murray.