As part of Unitas’ initiative to support staff with their health and wellbeing, we’ve been working with behavioural change experts, Ice Creates, to run a 12-week programme to help employees quit smoking.
Unitas employees, Kerry Kirkham and Dave Ashby, took part in the scheme in 2019 – we spoke to them about their experience:
How long did you smoke for before you started the programme?
Kerry: Since I was 13, so when I stopped I’d been smoking for 30 years.
Dave: I smoked for 27 years.
Had you tried to quit before? What had you tried?
Kerry: I’d tried numerous times but never succeeded. The longest I’d lasted was eight months. I’ve tried tablets, cold turkey, patches, gum, sprays & vaping. I do still vape but what really changed my mindset was the support & belief of the smoking counsellor, Les. He was always available if I needed a chat & every week he was there with words of encouragement.
Dave: I’d tried lots of times, but never really had the willpower to stick at it. I really only took it seriously when my Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, so I told him that if he packed in, I’d pack in too and with the support and encouragement of Les, my wife and my family, I’ve been smoke free since.
What sort of support did you receive?
Kerry: There were weekly visits with a lung function test – nothing scary or difficult – which really showed how smoking was affecting your health. There was a variety of stop smoking aids like gum, patches, lozenges, sprays. I tried the patches and gum and although they helped, it was the e-cigarette that really made me stop smoking.
The programme was three months but Les made it clear that if you needed to contact him after that he was happy to help.
Dave: Les was brilliant, he told me what to expect each week and he knew if someone had had a cigarette – so you couldn’t pull the wool over his eyes! He is a quality guy, and his support was second to none. I genuinely don’t think I could have stuck at it if it wasn’t for him.
I was offered a variety of aids and initially I just went with patches and the mints. After four months, I started using a vape but without nicotine, so I’ve been nicotine-free as well as smoke-free.
Was it difficult to follow? How hard did you find it to “not smoke” in the beginning and has it got easier over time?
Kerry: It was easy to follow. If you’ve made up your mind and you take it one day at a time you can do it. Not smoking was difficult at first but it gets easier with time.
Dave: The biggest motivator to give up was my Dad’s diagnosis so that really helped and kept me focused on the end result.
Have you managed to stay smoke free since you started?
Kerry: I had a blip on holiday last year, I smoked for the last couple of days but nowhere near as much as I used to and it just confirmed to me I’d made the right decision. It tasted horrible!
Dave: I’ve been using a vape since the end of the programme. I don’t have any nicotine in it and not a single cigarette has passed my lips. I have surprised myself. Plus, now my sense of smell has improved I can smell it on other people and in the air and it’s horrible!
How long have you been smoke-free?
Kerry: In total, aside from those couple of days, it’s been 22 months – since May 2019.
Dave: Nearly two years.
What has kept you focused on not smoking?
Kerry: Getting a bit older, I could feel the effects more. My fiancé is a non-smoker and hated it when I smoked. When we moved in together it was so nice not having to stand by the back door in the cold weather. When I go to the gym now (when we’re not in lockdown) I can exercise for longer without getting breathless and I enjoy exercising much more now.
The money I’ve saved from not smoking has paid for a week in Cornwall and extra spending money so we can treat ourselves to some nice meals and afternoon teas whilst we’re there.
Dave: I just hate the smell of it now, I feel like a better, healthier person and my bank balance is showing the benefit! Socialising was hard initially (in the days we were allowed to!) but it’s been worth it.
Has it difficult has it been to continue with the stop smoking practices – particularly during the pandemic?
Kerry: I have vaped more than normal, working from home meant that I could vape at my ‘desk’, as it were. I’ve also put a bit of weight on, mainly because food tastes so much nicer, but I’ll never go back to smoking. If I can give up after 30 years, anyone can do it.
Dave: To be honest, I’ve not struggled through the pandemic as I’ve been able to work throughout so my habits haven’t changed and I’ve not felt the need to start smoking. I am a Mental health First Aider too, so I have lots of tools at my fingertips to prevent any normal daily stresses and strains from escalating.
How do you feel since not smoking cigarettes anymore? Have you had any added health benefits?
Kerry: I’ve felt loads better. My sense of taste and smell has improved, I don’t get breathless or have a horrible cough in the mornings. My skin is clearer, and my hair and nails are in better condition. I don’t get as many coughs and colds and when I do, they’re milder. My teeth are also whiter so I’m less conscious when I smile.
Dave: I’m much healthier, my senses of taste and smell are better, and my wife told me I don’t wheeze in the night now when I’m sleeping! I look back and I think I just smoked for the sake of it and again, my Dad’s diagnosis was the root of it all and gave me the motivation I needed.
Would you recommend the programme?
Kerry: Definitely. If you want to give up, the support the counsellor gives you and the free smoking aids are invaluable. You’ll be doing it alongside colleagues so you can form your own support network to encourage each other through the difficult days.
Dave: Absolutely – most definitely. If I had to give Les a rating between 1-10 I’d give him 20. I think of him so highly and he really understood how it felt and I could tell him anything.
We’re incredibly passionate about supporting our staff to meet their health and wellbeing goals through health initiatives and mental health tools. If you’re interested in working for Unitas, check out our Careers page.