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Smoking is the leading preventable cause of cancer worldwide. But today is National No Smoking day, and a time to focus on quitting.

We know quitting can be hard but there are many things out there to help, like the NHS Stop Smoking Services – the most effective way to quit.

For inspiration we talked to Gower Tan, a father of two from Dulwich who works in business design, to share his story about how he kicked his habit.

“I started smoking when I was 13 and spent the next 27 years trying to stop,” he said.

“It took many attempts to stop smoking.  I was constantly thinking about when I could have my next cigarette. Each time I quit, I’d look for any excuse to start again – ‘I’ve had a stressful’ day or ‘just one will be OK’ ”.

But in 2003 Gower’s father died of lung cancer, at 66 years old.

“I watched my father die of lung cancer, knowing that smoking had caused this.  My Dad had stopped smoking three years before he died, but it was sadly too late. I felt a huge amount of guilt as I was still smoking at the time and was scared that my daughter would be watching the same thing in years to come.”

Soon after his father’s death Gower became a Cancer Research UK supporter, raising funds for our pioneering research.

“I became involved in fundraising for Cancer Research UK but I wanted to broaden my involvement in supporting this amazing work – using my skills and experience.”

But he still struggled for several more years to quit.

So in 2010, when Gower turned 40 he set out on an ambitious mission: he wasn’t just going to quit smoking, he was also going to run the London Marathon and raise £2000 for Cancer Research UK.

His brother recommended a stop smoking clinic and after visiting it he gave up cigarettes for good.

Gower stopped smoking, got fit and completed the marathon in 2010, raising way more than his £2000 target. He has since completed three more London Marathon’s raising over £15,000 for Cancer Research UK.

“In tackling my mission, I learned a little more about smoking, and tobacco companies, and my interest in supporting Cancer Research UK grew along with my desire to help others stop smoking.”

Gower is now a Campaigns Ambassador for us and a strong supporter of standardised cigarette packaging.

shoe barker

Gower Tan as ‘Shoe Barker’, Cancer Research UK’s mascot

“The standardised packaging campaign hugely resonated with me. My father died from lung cancer after smoking most of his life, I smoked from 13 to 40 years old and I have a 14 year old daughter and a nine year old son who I want to protect from this.

“When I then learned that over 150,000 11-15 year old children start smoking each year in the UK, I was compelled to do something.

“I became angry that my smoking habit was not my choice as an adult, but an addiction I developed as a 13 year-old-child.  With two-thirds of smokers starting before they are 18 – and killing at least one in two long-term users, anything that can be done to stop children taking up this deadly addiction must be done.

“Soon all MPs will have the chance to vote on standard packs – this is our chance to help protect children from tobacco marketing.”

This year Gower plans to run the marathon again – for a truly heroic fifth time, and will be going one step further – running in a giant trainer costume, the official Cancer Research UK mascot ‘Shoe Barker’. He hopes to set a new Guinness World record for the ‘fastest marathon in a giant shoe’.

“I wanted to do something a bit different, both to support my fundraising and also to attract publicity for the amazing work Cancer Research UK does.  Training in my giant shoe, both at home in London and in Atlanta has certainly turned a few heads, many cheers and high fives.

“My life and health have definitely changed for the better since I stopped smoking,” he said. “I’m proud to have broken free of my smoking addiction.”

Gower is just one of the many success stories we hear about each and every year. It is important to remember that quitting is an individual thing.  So what worked for Gower may not work for everyone.  However, evidence shows that a combination of medication and behavioural support – like that provided by Stop Smoking Services – roughly triples your chance of success. You can find out more at

You can learn more about Gower’s ‘giant shoe marathon challenge’ for Cancer Research UK here:

– Misha