Support to deal with the devil

$1.50 well sacrificed. Tupu Daniel breaking a habit. Photo: Daniel Hines.

Tupu Daniel has tried and failed before. Eight times he has tried to break free of the insidious grip of nicotine. Each time the fags have won.

Every smoker, every lapsed smoker would know that feeling.

This time, Tupu’s being pragmatic when he suggests he is “refraining from smoking” rather than quitting. But it is coming up a month since he stubbed out his last cigarette. So he is on the brink of becoming another positive statistic.

“Once a smoker, always a smoker, so no rash promises,” says the 55-year-old Arataki Virgin Airline cabin crew. But he’s munching nicotine lozenges like they’re the new wonder food. They ease the withdrawal symptoms. He’s also wearing patches and he’s winning at the moment.

The kids - Jackson and Emily - are proud of him. They didn’t want to lose their dad. They didn’t want Tupu to be one of the 5,000 New Zealanders who die each year from smoking related illness like lung cancer or emphysema.

“Quitting was always in the back of my mind” says the ten-a-day man. “Twenty” corrects wife Heather. “Depending on the situation.” Regardless, Tupu says he had a responsibility to his family to stop.

But he needed help and when he heard the radio ad for the Hapainga Stop Smoking Service, he reached out. He was probably in his car driving to work in Auckland at the time… and probably having a durry.

“And it was free – I am very frugal, cheap is good, free is best.”

Hapainga has an unenviable task because the addictive qualities of nicotine make it as least as difficult as heroin to kick. But as part of the Government’s goal of a Smokefree Aotearoa 2025, it’s making inroads. Although more than 500,000 Kiwis still smoke, the numbers have dropped from 25 per cent in 1996/97 to 13 per cent.

“For the last couple of years, we have consistently had a minimum 75 per cent successful quit smoking rate at four weeks,” says Hapainga team leader, Lizzie Spence. And that ranks the Bay of Plenty service one of the top three services in New Zealand. It suggests Tupu has a very good chance of staying a lapsed smoker.

“When I was on the road as a field officer for the Department of Social Welfare, I would stop and buy pies, sandwiches and fish and chips.”

Then he spotted a commercial traveler sitting in his car at the lights taking a deep drag on a cigarette. “It was 30 years ago. It looked cool and obviously the cigarettes were this man’s companions on the road.” He rues the decision to this day. But he went and bought a pack of Rothmans.

He was in his mid-twenties, had never been tempted even though his parents both smoked, as did many of his friends. Then he capitulated to one of the most dangerous of drugs. “Figure that.”

His job made smoking affordable for the family man. “I fly internationally every fortnight and could buy cigarettes duty free – a Chinese brand Double Happiness, $3.60 for 20. I think, here, a pack of Winfield Select Blue extra mild, a popular brand, is about $26.”

Hapainga enforces that point. It says smoking a pack a day costs about $10,800 per year or approximately $208 a week. This is based on pack of 20 that costs $29.70 - the average cost in January 2019.

Tupu has shown mettle previously. He gave up for ten years. “Dad was very ill, Heather had come back to New Zealand to work while I stayed in Australian for 18 months to complete my long service. Smoking was my vice to help me through a very stressful time and there was no pressure on me not to smoke. The option at the end of the day was gym or cigarette …. mmm, let me think about that?”

Then the stigma, embarrassment and a cessation practitioner waving a carbon monoxide detector weighed on him.

“You feel like a leper smoking – you have to hide your habit.” Even when the family was out in the car Tupu would take time out for a fag. They didn’t like it. And the kids’ friends would say I didn’t know your Dad smoked?”

But along with the lozenges and patches is someone called Candy Blackwell – a cessation practitioner who cares and understands. She has survived the smoking thing and now helps people like Tupu break out from the clouds of toxic smoke.

“I love having a quit smoking coach, that one-on-one contact each week. I am lucky to have that support.” And the detector – there can be no cheating, no deception, no sly fags. A bit like a breathalyser, it’ll verify at four weeks whether a person is smoke-free. Nil to no levels of carbon monoxide is a pass mark – that person is no longer smoking.

But Tupu still has to deal with the ‘triggers’ – the beer, the socialising, being around other smokers, the call of the designated smoking area, relaxing, driving, the need to do something with your hands. All activities dealt with by his old Chinese friends, Double Happiness.

But for now the kids, Jackson and Emily are proud of Dad. And Heather pinches her husband’s cheek . “Good boy,” she says affectionately. Tupi continues to “refrain”.

Next week Alana Ibbetson’s story – a hardcore smoker since 14 or 15. Now, 20 years later, she is confronting her addiction with the help of Hapainga Stop Smoking Service – call 0800 Hapainga or 0800 427246.