Together we will beat cancer


Lucy and Richard Briers

Over a year ago – on February 17th 2013 – my wonderful father died from emphysema, a lung disease which had diminished him from a sprightly 74 year old, who was still working, to a 79 year old who couldn’t walk the length of his garden without frequently stopping to catch his breath.

My father began smoking at the age of 14. The year was 1948, a time when smoking was advertised as good for you.

An American advert from 1949 ends with the byline “More Doctors Smoke Camel Than Any Other Cigarette”.

By the age of 20 Dad was training to be an actor at RADA in London. The lifestyle of young drama students made smoking almost obligatory, and having already smoked for six years, Dad was well and truly hooked.

By the time my sister and I came along in the 1960’s smoking was firmly lodged in everyone’s minds as glamorous and ‘cool’. Many of our family photographs from this time have Dad smoking either a pipe, a cigarette or a roll-up. I never thought anything of it, and because I adored my Dad, wanted to emulate him.

By 14 I was secretly smoking Sobranie, seduced 100 per cent by their stunning packaging. I would smoke on and off for the next 20 years, before kicking the habit for good six years ago.

“Like a friend’s reassuring steady hand”

Of course by the 1980’s people were becoming aware of the terrible health consequences smoking could lead to, but Dad resolutely stuck to the habit.

As with every dedicated smoker, he saw his daily roll-ups as a comfort, like a friend’s reassuring steady hand on one’s shoulder. He was by now a well known and much respected actor, which meant that with every performance or TV recording more was expected of him.

There was nothing better to calm his nerves than a strong cup of tea and a ciggie.

In 2001, at the age of 67, Dad went for a routine health check and was told that if he didn’t stop smoking he would be in a wheelchair in 5 years. He stopped that day, despite the fact he was doing a play so his nerves were on high alert.

He had been smoking for 53 years. With such a speedy reaction to this frightening news we all, perhaps naively, thought smoking hadn’t got him. 7 years later he was diagnosed with emphysema.

Providing joy to so many people

My mother told me a few months after Dad’s death that he had often been distraught at what he felt was a self-inflicted illness.

For me this was such an awful way for my father to approach the end of his life, especially a life which had provided so much joy to so many people.

It is hard for me to admit, but I have felt angry with my Dad since his death, because in a way he was right; it was self-inflicted. If he hadn’t started smoking, or if he had given up in his twenties, thirties or even forties, I’m certain we would still be enjoying his glorious company today and for many years to come.

However, it is not as simple as that.

Reducing the appeal of tobacco

The tobacco industry needs to recruit the next generation into becoming smokers. Let’s face it, when you’re selling something that potentially kills, you always need new blood. It worked for my father in the 1940’s, me in the 1980’s and it still works for hundreds of children between the ages of 11 to 15 each day.

Evidence shows that the standardised packaging campaign would reduce the appeal of glamorous cigarette packaging. If it produced even a 10 per cent decrease in new smokers that would mean thousands of young people each year would avoid the health consequences and possible deaths brought on by smoking.

My father was Richard Briers. He had given his name to this campaign only weeks before he died. In taking up his baton I hope some good will come from his death.

In early April, the Government said they were moving forward with regulations for standardised packs, so it now looks like the UK is a step closer to putting an end to colourful and attractive tobacco packaging.

Their independent review agreed this should happen. I agree and I think my father would have also agreed.

Please do all you can to give your support.

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post Lifestyle blog

Photograph of Richard Briers and his daughter Lucy reproduced by kind permission of the photographer Michele Martinoli.


RobW May 19, 2014

It is very sad and horrible disease, I too have lost loved ones to tobacco.

If only your father had been a few decades younger, he may have had the opportunity to have switched to e-cigs and would have drastically reduced his risk of getting lung cancer.

Although plain packs may have a small effect, they are unlikely to have the impact you think they will, initial results from Australia have shown that plain packs will only benefit the smugglers and those who start to manufacture fancy cigarette cases.

The best chance to destroy the tobacco industry is for organisations like CRUK to embrace e-cigs as the tobacco industry destroying technology that they are. Sadly CRUK for reasons unknown wish to destroy the e-cig industry in it’s infancy and condemn many life long smokers to a slow and painful death, shameful behaviour from an anti cancer charity.

John May 18, 2014

53 need to stop

Lorraine Sinclair May 18, 2014

a horrible disease,my father too succumbed to. sadly passed away at 69. I was only 37, he only met one of my children. cigarettes shouldbe banned in my opinion, cancer sticks we used to call them.

Christine Orford May 17, 2014

Please take heed, I’m currently recovering from mouth cancer, in which cigs/roll-ups/ any kind of tobacco, play a large part, I’m extremely lucky that it was caught very early, through a dental check. They gave me patches to help and although I still occasionally feel like a ciggie, I know how blessed I am to be here. Please take heed.

terry May 17, 2014

i took my mothers cigarettes from her when she was 75, she died 76. i will never forgive myself

Mags May 17, 2014

Give it up! My husband smoked 40 a day for 30 years then stopped. Tried chewing gum etc but found willpower did the trick. Some people take the attitude “Oh well if I get cancer I have to die of something” . But No! Smoking can cause blocked arteries, heart problems and long term suffering of things like emphesema which dear Richard Briers died of. TAKE HEED!!

Terry McGeary May 17, 2014

Totally agree. Lucy Briers you have done a good thing here and I am certain your father would be proud. He really did bring joy in his performances (I have recently be enjoying again Ever Decreasing Circles

Patricia Mary Hewitson May 17, 2014

Emphysema is a horrid disease, as a nurse I tried hard to get my mother to stop smoking, in fact its the only time we argued.
What upset me was knowing how my mother was going to die, he last 15 years were miserable, her one joy was meeting her great grandchildren.

Sarah Scott May 17, 2014

My Dad, died May 1st, smoking related heart disease and emphysema. Story very similar to Lucy and her Dad’s was so sad. Of course sadly other people who have not smoked can die younger and of cancer. This is not the point, there are many, many smokers who will see out their days on hospital wards attached to oxygen machines – this could be prevented if they hadn’t smoked. I wholeheartedly after with her. I also started smoking early, aged 12, gave up when I was 35.

Trish Swinscoe May 17, 2014

A brilliantly written document, that follows the era of when it was cool to smoke, to the damage it does and the sorrow it leaves behind. I see so many people in hypnosis that come to quit but it takes will power too

Karen Kennedy May 17, 2014

I have had a Father who died from lung cancer, a Cousin (not from my Dad’s side) and also a close family friend……non of them smoked……in fact they all hated smoking in any form….but the common denominator was……they all worked with diesel!! If you look at how many children have cancer today as compared to 20 years ago…ask yourself……why??…….My guess is because so many kids nowadays are subjected to diesel fumes…….a child in a buggy is so much closer to exhaust pipes!!

maisey May 16, 2014

Sorry I don’t agree my friends 21yr old sister died non smoker non drinker fit & healthy doing a degree to become a teacher … go figure

Honest Bob May 16, 2014

I have seen so many loved ones die from smoking that I wished i could pass on the evidence to smokers today.The people that have died from smoking in my life time are so numerous that I would have a total ban on all cigarettes.May be one day people see the carnage.

carol newman May 16, 2014

My Hubbie smokes sits watching Tele all day smoking away he has been smoking 51yrs and he is coughing most of the time it is killing him but he won’t give up

Helen May 16, 2014

My mum also smoked for years and died of lung cancer last year, it was devastating to see her deteriorate and suffer in such a horrible way. I plead with any one smoking to stop. It’s heart breaking to watch a loved one die this way.

lil May 16, 2014

I sit here reading your story. I agree. I am smoking a roll up right now. I am approaching 40 and I would love to give up completely. I am rubbish at keeping my promise so I don’t make promises. Been smoking since my first sneaky one at 11 years old when my sister and smoked my mums on way to school. Bad but true. My mum still smokes and she is riddled. My husband also has a terminal illnesses I won’t discuss about .
Well, I don’t know what to do. I want to give up but I will keep smoking unless I am put in a place I’m not allowed to smoke. Only times I don’t smoke is when I simply can’t afford to. But yes, it’s bloody hard. I support you all the way. It needs to be much tougher to start smoking too. Really really can’t stress that enough. My kids see me smoke so they hardly see it harming me but they don’t like seeing me do it. But inside, I know it is harming me.
But, I am still wanting my cup of tea and a cigarette. .

Molly farmer May 16, 2014

Very sad but my dad never smoked but he still died of cancer but my grandad who smoked 40 a day for 60 years lived longer! How can that be fair?