Mark Van der Vord

Mark had a few tries at quitting smoking, but this time he's sure it's for good.

Today is National No Smoking day, led by the British Heart Foundation, when people all over the UK are encouraged to quit smoking.

Not only does smoking increase the risk of heart disease and many serious lung conditions, it’s also the leading preventable cause of cancer in the world.

Right now, smoking causes more than one in four cancer deaths in the UK and has killed millions of people over the past 50 years. 

But although quitting the habit is hard, there are lots of things that can help. We asked Mark Van der Vord, a 45-year-old database administrator from London, to share his story of how he packed it in.

“I started smoking when I was 18 – I suppose it was a classic case of the cool kids did it, and I wanted to join in what they were doing. It was nice to be associated with that group at first, and after that I got addicted.

“I decided to quit about three years ago, because I was fed up with being addicted and realised that the only thing I was getting out of smoking was the alleviation of that addiction. I didn’t want it to be a part of me, to be representative of who I am – that little voice saying “go on, have a cigarette”.

“I tried nicotine patches, inhalers, going cold turkey and various other methods but none of them really worked. Then I heard about a drug that stopped nicotine cravings, which appeared to be very successful, so I thought I’d give it a go.

“It worked for a while but unfortunately I started smoking again last year, mainly because when I went out with my friends for a drink they would be smoking so I would go outside with them for a smoke.

“I started taking the drug for a second time and I’ve now given up again, and I’m still taking the medication. It worked because it just stops you from wanting a cigarette and kills the cravings. This time round it’s been harder, but it’s still the most effective method I’ve come across for quitting smoking.

“I got a lot of support from the NHS and they’ve been excellent, and my nurse Katrina at my local clinic has been with me the whole way. My wife is also a massive motivator – when you’re in a partnership and one of you smokes and the other doesn’t, it must be very annoying for the person who doesn’t!

“Quitting itself hasn’t been that hard, mainly because I’m not having cravings. But the hard thing is realising that nicotine is really addictive, and it’s not OK to “have just one cigarette”. In my experience even having just one cigarette makes you addicted again, so this time round I’ve decided that no way am I going to have nicotine again.

“A lot of people pay lip service to the idea of giving up smoking because they feel it’s the “right” thing to do, but actually they don’t really want to give up and they’re quite happy smoking. I feel that if you want to give up, you have to be committed to the idea of never smoking again, and that will be the major motivator to become a non-smoker.

“I’ve definitely noticed a health improvement, although that wasn’t my main motivation. I also feel better within myself for having got rid of the addiction to smoking – I’m not listening to that little voice anymore.”

Mark is just one of the many success stories we hear about every year. But it’s important to point out that giving up is an individual thing, and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. Our tobacco control manager, Robin Hewings, offered his support, saying:

“It’s great to hear the Mark has been successful in quitting. It can be a very difficult addiction to break and getting support is definitely recommended.

“Research shows that using medication and group support through the NHS helps increase success rates by three and a half times. Speak to your GP or your local chemist for advice, but the best thing we can recommend is that smokers don’t give up trying to give up.”

Interviews by Kat Arney