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Fitness and hurling with nephew - John’s reward for quitting smoking

 John Duffy


The Donegal fields may be more synonymous with football than hurling but for John Duffy, Resource Officer for Suicide Prevention with the HSE in Dublin North City and County, hurling is the chosen discipline when playing with his nephew in his native county.  John quit smoking last July and seven months later he points to his greater fitness levels in being able to play with the youngster as one of the distinct benefits.

Having previously worked with an NGO (Non Governmental Organisation), John joined the HSE in 2019 and, while acknowledging the many pressures of his job, he earnestly points to the many areas of satisfaction and rewards.  It was during a career break from his NGO job some years ago that he became a regular smoker – a relatively late start by his own admission: “I started, quite foolishly, when I was 26 -  I had been a bit of a social smoker before that.  But then I went on a career break and I was effectively socialising all the time and started smoking on a more regular basis.  Six months later when I returned to work I was a fully committed smoker.”

Over the next few years, John considered quitting several times and initially looked at the milestone of turning 30 as a good time to quit. However, that first attempt only lasted a few weeks: “I didn’t have any external support – I was going it alone and so it was quite hard. There were a few other attempts after that but nothing really worked for me.”

It was another milestone birthday that again saw John focus on quitting.  The prospect of his 40th birthday last year gave him cause for contemplation:

“I knew I really needed to nip this bad habit of mine.”

John explains how a fortuitous trip to the canteen in St Mary’s Hospital in the Phoenix Park where he works, led him to meeting Nuala Cody, HSE Stop Smoking Advisor who, with her colleague,  had a stand promoting the HSE Staff Quit Programme:

“I was very lucky as I share a building with two HSE Stop Smoking Advisors.”

John subsequently met with Nuala who guided him in developing a plan, provided the personal and logistical support and ensured he had Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) patches and an inhaler.

It was a game changer:

“We agreed a start date and I picked July 4th – my Independence Day from smoking!” He describes Nuala and the support she provided as “fantastic. She provided great advice and let me know that she would be there as a support for me during my quit journey.  It was invaluable to have someone at the end of the phone that you knew you could ring and chat whenever needed.” 

John adds: “She didn’t put any pressure on me and explained that it may be best to choose a date when there may not be as many pressures on me.  So I waited until I had finished a particular work strategy, but also made sure I had started my quit journey before I went on holidays in early August. 

“And so when I quit last year I had a different experience from the other times.  I had a plan and when I was going into social settings for example, I had material support in the form of NRT.  So, on that very first day, for example,  when I was meeting up with friends, I knew I was meeting with someone who was a smoker.  But it didn’t faze me at all being in that space with him.  In the past that would have been an issue for me.”

Inevitably there have been challenges: “I have had cravings on many occasions but I was able to follow the advice that Nuala had given me – delaying acting on the urge, distracting myself, drinking some water, deep breathing and if needed using my inhaler.   And these were some of the tools that allowed me to ensure that the craving would pass.  And it’s really about employing preventative measures to stop yourself falling victim to those cravings.  The research shows that the craving will only last for a few minutes and once you’re able to manage it, it works.”

It all became embedded, John explains.  And while he laments that his partner still smokes, he notes that the numbers within his own social circle who smoke are declining. 

In the months immediately after last July John found himself realising that he “just wasn’t a smoker anymore. All the cravings went, I continued with the NRT for the recommended three months and after that, I didn’t feel I needed it anymore.  I am delighted to say I am seven months off now and have not taken one single puff of a cigarette since July 4th.”

For John, it was the support from Nuala, the plan, the NRT and material help that ultimately led to this being his successful quit journey.  The benefits of course have been significant: “The big one for me has been my health.  Simple things – when I was a smoker I wouldn’t have been able to play with my nieces and nephews for very long because I would be out of breath.  But shortly after I had given up smoking, I was home in Donegal and out in the field playing hurling with my nephew for a few hours, whereas before I would only last maybe half an hour at most running around after him.  So it is those noticeable, simple but important changes that give you great encouragement to stick with the journey.  And of course it also helped to have some extra cash in my pocket that I was now keeping instead of spending on cigarettes.”

Reflecting on advice he would offer anyone thinking about quitting, John notes how he had procrastinated a lot: “There never really is the perfect or the best time to quit.  Just take the plunge – take advantage of the support out there. I found it immeasurably better for me having that support, having Nuala -  she made the difference.”