Together we will beat cancer

Henrietta Pretty and her children

Henrietta and her children

Andrew Lansley has launched a three-month long consultation on the future of tobacco packaging, and whether all cigarettes should be sold in packs of uniform size, shape and colour.

This is a measure we fully support as a way to help reduce the appeal of cigarettes to children. It’s about giving young people one less reason to start smoking and stopping them becoming addicted to a product that kills half of all long term smokers.

In this article, mother of two Henrietta Pretty talks about her personal experience of losing her mother to lung cancer, her perspective on tobacco marketing and of wanting to protect her two young sons from becoming smokers.

My mum the addict

My mum was an addict for as long as I can remember. She’d got hooked in her teens and was never able to kick it. She’d tried several times but the draw was just too strong. On the outside she was a capable, talented woman – clever, sensible and in control of her life. It was her only weakness, but she was totally and utterly powerless to it. Smoking ruled her with an iron hold.

It was her friend, she would say, her solace. Most addicts may say they enjoy smoking but in reality it’s only ever the cigarettes that are in control, a basic addiction just clever enough to convince you you’re the one calling the shots.

In the end my mother’s “friendly” addiction killed her, on April 17th 2011, just 10 weeks after her lung cancer diagnosis. She was just 71, and left behind her 6 grandchildren, most of whom are too young to ever remember her.

My mother wasn’t always ashamed of her habit. In the 50s it was the done thing – cool, sophisticated, medicinal even. Her GP would happily offer her cigarettes from his gold enamel case when she visited him to help calm her nerves. She puffed away with gay abandon throughout the 70s and 80s, but by the 90s the sheen had begun to dull and in the new millennium the billboard posters were being pulled down and smokers ostracised from public life. My mother and her cigarettes began to see a very different reflection looking back.

So she became ashamed. Ashamed of something that she’d become hooked on in her vulnerable teenage years, and that the tobacco companies had ensured she remained addicted to throughout her life. In truth she had nothing to feel ashamed for, just angry.

Silent salesman

So the idea of tobacco companies fighting for their share of our wallet, a “silent salesman” using sophisticated marketing techniques to tempt us into addiction, totally sickens me. Packets with sexy logos and provocative branding designed to drown out the health warnings, conceived to appeal to the young and vulnerable. It’s cynical, deadly, disgusting.

So as a mother of two young boys I would do anything to stop them from getting hooked in the first place; I suspect that once hooked no amount of warning on packaging or £s added to the bill will make a difference if the habit is hungry enough.

Our only hope is to keep stepping in the right direction, keep expounding smoking as the evil, devastating killer that it is, dispelling the myth, open or subconscious that smoking is cool or even acceptable so that our children think twice about whether it fits the life they aspire to.

I should have had my mum for another 20 years. All our family have lived that long, all except mum – the odd one out. But even our strong genes weren’t a match for her cigarettes.

Marketing isn’t always totally honest, but it sure as hell shouldn’t be allowed to tempt people to their death.


Further information

Click here for more information on why plain packaging is important and to support Cancer Research UK’s The Answer is Plain campaign.


J Sawyer May 10, 2012

My own grandfather died when i was three, and he smoked a pipe. i never really saw him as we lived on different continents, so it was quite tragic. I am in full sympathy with others,

J Sawyer May 10, 2012

I think that though Henrietta is very brave and inspirational, and was right to share her story, i have a nagging feeling that Ivan is correct in some aspects. Because we do not want to remember our loved ones in a bad light, we can sometimes get a bit selfish. Henrietta, i believe, however, did not show this – though some might.

NR April 26, 2012

Truly inspiring. I don’t detect any bitterness but a desire to change things for the better and for other people.

Mrs B April 26, 2012

Henrietta, thank you for sharing your -all to familiar- story. I won’t comment much on those who dishonour the victims of real oppression, (of the gulags, the concentration camps and in Darfur for example), by claiming kinship on the grounds they are being given direct and honest health information. I can see others have reached their own conclusions.

Linda Downey April 26, 2012

Hi Henri, thanks for taking the time to share your mum’s story, my mum also smokes and wishes she had never started. If we can change the habits of teenagers now then future mum’s will be around alot longer. Linda

Jackie J April 26, 2012

Henrietta, I always hold on to the fact that there are more kind caring people who want to help change others lives by sharing their experiances and I for one want to thank you for thinking of others when you made the difficult decision to share your story in such a lovely way. I too have cancer so feel I can speak for myself and others and I wish I had never started smoking, this campaign will go some way to helping othesr make up their own minds… as information empowers others. I would like to print the look in my childrens eyes each time I tell them this terrible illness has come back. Maybe just maybe it would help, So thank you and all the others that in some way will make a real differance in other peoples lives.

neil olsson April 26, 2012

Henrietta can I just say how couragious it is of you to post your story especially when it is such a sensitive matter. Thank you very much for supporting this hugely important campaign,

ECB April 26, 2012

Please accept my sincere thoughts and sympathy over your recent bereavement..It must be a very difficult time for you and I would like you to know how brave I feel you and your family are to share your views and thoughts. I’m sure your mum would be proud of you. I had cancer but have been one of the lucky ones. I share your view that what ever needs to be done to help and protect children from being attracted to smoking and become addicted must be a step in the right direction.If plain packaging saves just one person from the suffering that cancer can bring it has to be the way forward. Take care. ECB

David Collins April 26, 2012

I’d like to say I’m shocked by the comments of Ivan D. Unfortunately I’m not. While the vast majority of people who use these forums are genuine people with something to say, there are the Ivan’s. They feed on the grief of others and crave the angry response to their post. Replying or responding directly just feeds their perverted pleasure. If they are ignored they will craw away back under the rock they slithered from.

Henrietta, you are a truly inspirational and brave lady to share your story with us. Look at the likes and number of tweets your story has produce. Take strength from that support and the knowledge that you are amongst friends. Thank you for sharing your story. Your description of your lovely mum, is one I recognise in the addicted smokers I know and love. You story illustrates better than I ever could exactly why this is a campaign we must win. Thank you.

Suzanne Fernando April 26, 2012

Thank you for sharing your story Henrietta. Many years ago I lost my Grandparents to cancer caused by heavy smoking and it devastated our lives. I’ve since took part every year in the race for life in their memory and raise awareness and much needed funds for CRUK whenever I can. I do hope we can stop young people smoking in the first place by spreading our message far and wide. God bless you and your family. xx

Stephen H April 26, 2012

Well done Henrietta for sharing your story. It will help people to understand the dangers of smoking. Let’s hope we can stop young people smoking in the first place.

hpretty April 26, 2012


My mother was a victim. I cannot think of a better way to honour my mum’s memory than in support of any campaign to lessen the marketing might of this horrible industry. Smoking is no different than any other basic drug addiction, other than that it is ( owing to a gross historical error) a legal one.

My mother would neither see you as supportive nor respectful, nor hold dear your kind of values.

She was very much loved and respected, as has been shown by all the posts I have chosen to write on the subject, including this one.

I hope that are able to focus your time and obvious passion to further a more dignified and worthy cause in future.


Ivan D April 26, 2012

@Tim Thank you for your kindness.
@ Jules, respect for the dead who cannot answer for themselves nor choose whether or not they wish to be used as political tools by people like Paul. I am not intentionally vitriolic but I do find this kind of blog post saddening. I can’t imagine why someone would want to portray their dead mum in such a negative way. No doubt I should be silenced along with all those who are concerned that this crusade is going a bit too far and possibly doing too much damage to values we hold dear.

Jules April 25, 2012

Ivan D – what drives a person to leave such a repugnant comment? I suggest you give yourself a good talking to and vent your vitriol by others means.

Tim April 24, 2012

i think you should take up smoking Ivan. Then perhaps you might die quicker.

Ivan D April 23, 2012

It is odd that you are so proud of contributing to the oppression that made your mother so ashamed. Without the constant harassment of you and your kind she would probably have been a lot happier. I hope my family will not abuse my memory by using it to further their own self-righteous causes. I don’t smoke but your kind will have found something else by then.

Amanda Cerasale April 16, 2012

Yes I think it is about time now that cigarettes should now be sold behind the counters in all shops & supermarkets, My own grandfather died of lung cancer ( through smoking) when he was only 57 years of age back in 1963 when I was 3 years old & my brother was about 9 months old.