21st March 2022
Watching a close friend forced into quitting smoking after a heart attack was a significant “wake up call” for forty year old Lucas Marques whose quit journey began just over a year ago: “My friend was in his fifties, living on his own when he had the heart attack. He nearly died. It was such a shock and such a wake up call. He was a smoker and that was a major contributor to his heart disease. I saw directly the impact of smoking. So when I saw him quit in the immediate aftermath I just knew I had to finally do it.
“I had tried before to quit a couple of times but this just added to my motivation. I saw how my friend had been effectively forced into quitting smoking. I didn’t want to be pushed by some health scare like that.” Already experiencing some shortness of breath when he exercised, Lucas says he knew it could potentially get much worse and did not want to wait for that to happen.
A year later and he is now a confirmed and committed quitter. His friend is doing well and is also a confirmed quitter heading for his two year anniversary: “We were out last year for my birthday and it was funny because we were both saying at that point we just didn’t want to be anywhere near smokers as we couldn’t take the smell. I even wondered how I didn’t realise when I was smoking the impact it had on others around me.”
"Fighting against my desire to smoke"
Originally from Brazil, Lucas came to Ireland ten years ago to learn English and stayed to become an Irish citizen. His European pedigree is determined through his Italian grandparents and so there was almost an inevitability that he would find his way to Europe at some point. Based in Dublin, he has been working in the financial arena with Pobal for over four years which he enjoys. While originally quite a heavy smoker, Lucas says that in recent years he had contained himself to five cigarettes a day but acknowledges that when out and socialising, that was increase substantially: “I would easily smoke a full pack of cigarettes.”
Curiosity in his late teens was what initially led him to start. He wanted to know what it was like as he watched peers and friends indulge and naturally wanted to belong. However, Lucas says he was always conscious of the impact smoking had and was very much aware of the dangers. Acknowledging that it was very much an addiction, he says that conversely he was “always trying to be healthy all the time, while still smoking.
I was always really fighting against my desire to smoke. All my circle of friends were similar to me – we all got a vibe off smoking and enjoyed it while knowing the harm it was doing. But it was just cool, in some way brave and for boys it was a cool thing to do and to share. It empowered me or so I thought.”
Lucas says he did not particularly feel conscientious until he hit his thirties. “I just realised that I wasn’t twenty something any more. So I initially tried to cut down on the number of cigarettes I smoked but as much as I tried – I just couldn’t get any lower than the five a day and that obviously increased when I was socialising. So I just knew it was an addiction. I did try to quit completely – twice and neither times were successful. It was really hard with the cravings and the withdrawl.
However, the confluence of his friend’s health scare and his own realisation that his fitness levels were dropping led Lucas to participate in a webinar which in turn led him to contact the HSE Quit Team to seek support in giving up smoking. This would constitute his third attempt. Crucially however, this time there would be a plan, support and positive communication:
“I made contact with the HSE Quit Team and they were really good. I spoke with a Smoking Cessation Officer; he was really friendly and gave me some great advice. It was great – he was really there for me which was really helpful. He listened to my concerns. So we put a plan together to help over the next few weeks. I got support in using nicotine pads and that really worked for me. He followed up with me over the next number of weeks and kept in contact throughout.”
Having now passed his first anniversary, Lucas is delighted to be able to acknowledge that he is now a “quitter.”
There were and are of course challenges: “There were moments and even now there still are times when I do having cravings. But then when I go somewhere mingling with people who are or have been smoking I feel disgusted. The smoke annoys me too. But for the first six months when I first quit it was hard. I would see someone smoking and that would trigger an urge within me. But I would just say no, I have come so far now I want to continue. And then you would start to add up the number of days and then months that you were free of cigarettes.”
And so when he was tempted Lucas says he knew to use the tips and habits he was encouraged to use – such as drinking a glass of water instead. “I would just remind myself of the reasons why I gave up in the first place. Essentially the main reason I quit was for my health. Even when I was smoking I always tried to run and cycle to keep healthy. One day when I was out cycling, I became very short of breath and I knew something was not right. That and obviously my friend’s heart attack were big wake up calls.”
A year after he quit Lucas says he notices a significant improvement in his overall health and fitness levels: “I went back to the gym and I can do much more now without getting short of breath. I wish I had quit earlier but I am delighted with how it has worked out for me now.”
Today, Lucas honestly acknowledges, its not so much the social outings that create temptations but rather issues on a personal level. “You might have some things to face or do and you may be anxious and its then that you are tempted to use cigarettes as a crutch or escape. They are often emotional moments that constitute triggers where the brain is looking for ways to cope. It could be work, family, partner, friends, anything.”
But Lucas says that at those moments, he simply reflects back on how long he has been a quitter, the reasons he quit and realises that he does not want to lose all he has gained: “I just don’t want to go back.”
Overall Lucas is very clear that the most successful way to quit is through a supported structure. The HSE Quit Team were fundamentally the reason he was able to find the strength and resilience to finally make his quit desire happen. “It was so good. They were great – the plan we put in place, the tips, the support, the phone calls, the messages, it all added up and made such a difference. Overall, Lucas sums up his advice: “Keep trying and get help – that’s step number one but its also the most important step.”