Nikki Fenton, 40, from Chadderton in Oldham, quit smoking five years ago after coming out as transgender so she could start taking HRT medication before undergoing gender reassignment surgery. Through the support of her GP, Nikki successfully quit smoking by vaping and now feels healthier. She is sharing her story to encourage other people to give quitting a go.
“I started smoking when I was still at school at around the age of 14 and it was down to peer pressure as all of my friends smoked. In the beginning, I was a light smoker but as I got older the amount of cigarettes I smoked per day gradually increased until I was smoking about 40 a day.
“I used to work in manufacturing, and I developed bronchiectasis from the fumes where I worked. I had a persistent cough and was often breathless. So, I decided to quit smoking to help my symptoms and I used a combination of patches, sprays and chewing gum. It took a few attempts, but I managed to stop for three years. Unfortunately, I relapsed after a night out, when I got drunk and I started smoking again.
“I did want to try to quit again, but it was even more difficult. I managed to cut down to 10 cigarettes a day and I made a pact with myself to stop smoking when they stopped selling 10-packs of cigarettes, as the cost of smoking was getting more and more expensive. This also coincided with me coming out as transgender. I was advised by my doctor to quit smoking before I started HRT medication to avoid the risk of blood clots ahead of my gender reassignment surgery.”
At such an important time in her life, Nikki was determined to quit this time. She knew from her previous experience it wasn’t going to be easy, so she sought advice from her GP. After considering different nicotine replacement therapies, Nikki chose to use a vape pen.
“It was different this time as I was in a totally different mindset. I had a bigger reason to quit, and I was determined not to fail. It still wasn’t easy as many of my friends smoke, but they were incredibly supportive as they knew how important it was for me to stop.
“I chose to vape as it simulates smoking and I knew from previous experience that I missed the action of smoking, and not having something in my hands. I managed to quit overnight, and I gradually reduced the strength of the vape liquid until I was using no nicotine.
“I now feel much healthier, and I have managed to save money, which is very helpful as I’m currently unemployed. I’m now supporting two of my friends who are trying to quit and my advice to anyone else considering quitting is give it a go and don’t worry if you relapse, it’s all part of the process. Just keep trying and find a quitting aid that works for you.”
Martin York, 58, from Manchester quit smoking nine years ago with his husband, as they recognised it was easier to quit together to keep each other motivated. After losing family members to smoking-related illnesses, Martin was all too aware of the impact smoking can have. His own health was already being affected by it and he wanted to enjoy later life with his husband.
“I started smoking when I was around 13. Most of my family and some of my friends smoked. When my parents divorced, I found it difficult to handle and I became quite rebellious. Smoking was one of the ways I fought back. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and aunt and uncle, all of whom smoked, so I was surrounded by cigarettes.
“I became a fairly heavy smoker. By the time I started work at 16 I was already smoking regularly, and this increased to a pack of 20 a day during the week. Over a weekend I could easily smoke 100 cigarettes. Smoking played a huge role in socialising, as all my friends smoked. I tried to quit in my early 30s for financial reasons, but I eventually relapsed as I wasn’t in the right mindset at the time.
“Sadly, both my grandmother and uncle died from lung cancer and seeing first-hand the harm of smoking was devastating. I knew I had to make an informed decision about my own health, as I developed a chronic cough in my 40s. I was caught in the dilemma of knowing what it was doing to me yet associating pleasure with the incredibly hard-to-break habit.
“My husband was a smoker when I met him 23 years ago. When he decided to quit smoking, I realised that it was my opportunity to quit too as I didn’t want to smoke around him, but it was difficult as we were both addicted. He gave up multiple times temporarily before I found the strength to join him. I remember one night lying in bed, watching TV and smoking and I had really bad chest pains; I honestly thought I was having a heart attack. It was horrendous and it was my wake-up call – I had to stop.”
Martin, a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, decided to throw away his remaining cigarettes and lighter and opted to try different nicotine replacement therapies to help him quit. However, in the end it was down to sheer willpower and the support of his husband that he quit successfully.
“It took me a while to stop, and I tried different things to help me quit including nicotine tablets and an e-cigarette, as I missed the ritual of smoking. I had a very stressful job and had convinced myself that smoking somehow helped with the stress. Even though I knew it was harming me, I associated smoking with pleasure. I knew I had to break this cycle to quit successfully. I read a book by Paul McKenna which helped me to understand what the effects of smoking were on my body without feeling like I was being lectured to. This helped me to go cold turkey.
“I slipped up on a few occasions when I was out socialising especially after having a drink, and then once on a foreign holiday where there were free cigarettes at the hotel bar. Overall, it probably took me about two years to stop smoking entirely, but I have now been smokefree for nine years and the benefits have been significant.
“I’m no longer coughing, I’m breathing much better, my sense of taste is improved, it’s less taxing on my heart and at a recent health MOT my GP told me that my lung capacity is now the same as a non-smoker, which I never thought would be possible. I’m so pleased I quit smoking as I now have a longer life expectancy and can enjoy spending time with my husband, family and friends. I’ve also saved a lot of money, which has been a nice additional benefit.
“My advice to anyone who wants to quit smoking is not to give yourself a hard time if you relapse. Accept that it’s going to take time and effort, but for every cigarette you don’t smoke you’re adding time to your life. You may need to try a variety of techniques. Something will work for you. Be proud of every day you don’t smoke; on the days you do smoke, remind yourself that tomorrow is another day, and you can still succeed. It all makes a difference.”
Ajlal Ahmad, 23, moved to the UK from Pakistan in March 2021 to study at university. He has struggled with his sexuality since he was sixteen, and this impacted his mental health. Ajlal started smoking to cope with his depression and anxiety but kept it secret, along with his sexuality.
Ajlal had to put his education on hold to deal with his mental health and is currently living with a friend in Manchester. He quit smoking two months ago to improve his health and help save money.
“I started smoking when I was sixteen to try and help me deal with the stress and anxiety of accepting my sexuality. I had to hide it from my family, as homosexuality is not accepted and if I came out it would have caused huge problems. I didn’t want to bring shame on my family, so I hid who I really was and that was difficult. I even hid the fact I smoked, as no-one in my family smoked and none of my friends smoked. In fact, in the area I lived smoking was frowned upon.
“Even when I moved away to study, I was still a secret smoker. I used to use chewing gum and body spray to disguise the smell. I wasn’t a heavy smoker, as I only smoked eight to 10 cigarettes a day. Then I got the opportunity to come to study at university in the UK, which I was very excited about as thought I could finally be myself. So, after arriving and starting university I came out and told my family back home. Sadly, they reacted the way I thought they would, and it caused a lot of tension between us, which really impacted my mental health.
“I struggled with my university work and unfortunately had to put my education on hold for the time being. I went to stay with a friend in Manchester and they have helped support me, along with LGBT Foundation. I also decided to quit smoking to help improve my physical and mental health, and to save money.
“This was the first time I tried to quit smoking, but I knew I had to do it. I managed to quit about two months ago, I just used normal chewing gum and drank lots of tea. At first, it was difficult, and I was really sleepy, but gradually I stopped thinking about cigarettes and now I don’t miss them. I feel so much better. I have more stamina and I can walk and run faster. My clothes and breath no longer smell, which I really like.
“My advice to anyone who is thinking about quitting, is you will find it difficult but don’t give up. Keep going and if you don’t succeed the first time, try again. You will definitely notice the benefits and feel much better. It has also helped me save money which I can now spend on other things.”