Sue Z

Age at interview: 57
Brief Outline: Sue, 57, gave up smoking when she was 54. Sue is White British, works is a researcher, is married with a son. She tried her first cigarette aged 11 but started smoking regularly when she was about 16. She had various attempts at giving up, including stopping when she was pregnant, but then gave up through ‘absolute’ necessity, as she had a pulmonary embolism when she was 54.

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Sue came from a family where all the adults in her family smoked and said it was normal. She says she did ‘the classic thing’ of pinching a fag out of her father’s packet (when she was about 11) and took it to school to smoke later. At 14 she went on a holiday where a much older girl smoked Consulate cigarettes and remembers feeling something like ‘hero worship’. Sue says she started smoking regularly when she was about 16 and says that everyone at college smoked as it was ‘more usual to smoke than not to smoke’. She thinks that as teenagers they smoked more when they were together than when they were apart. Sue used to smoke Gitanes for a long time, which she thought were ‘very sophisticated’.

Eventually, when Sue was 54, she stopped smoking. Before that, she had stopped at various times. She quit when she was pregnant and after her baby was born, and then didn’t smoke for four years after that. As she didn’t drink when she was pregnant, she says that the association between a ‘glass of beer and a cigarette’ wasn’t there to tempt her. Later she started a degree and was ‘surrounded by smokers’, so started again. She felt she always started again when she was stressed or when ‘something big happened’ that she felt she had ‘no control over’. Now she sees this as a ‘repeating pattern’. She sometimes gave up because ‘someone else’ thought she should be giving up, and says that doesn’t really work as a strategy. She talks about the ways she rationalised smoking and said that she saw smoking as part of who she was. Sue says that it wasn’t just a case of stopping smoking but also changing other parts of her as well – she says that she often met really interesting people outside having a cigarette. When she stopped she missed having breaks with her colleagues.

Sue says she gave up through ‘absolute necessity’ when she had a pulmonary embolism. She was in hospital, couldn’t move out of bed and was on oxygen. She said she ‘wasn’t smoking at the moment’ i.e. that she hadn’t definitely given up, for a long time afterwards. She felt that it might be hard spending time with one of her close friends who still smoked now she herself had given up. Sue says the last time she gave up the smoking ban wasn’t in force, so it was easy to have ‘the odd one’ in a pub and then find herself smoking again. People told her she would ‘taste things better’ and ‘feel healthier’ but this hasn’t happened. She thought she ‘broke the back of it’ in hospital. She ‘bristled’ when junior doctors told her she couldn’t smoke, as she thought she understood the dangers of smoking. Looking back now she thinks that women she knew gave up earlier than men, because they sometimes stopped when they were pregnant.

Sue thinks that health campaigns are targeted too much towards the individual and not enough at the tobacco companies. Sue thinks that although quit lines are helpful, she has noticed that some friends have replaced one habit (smoking) with another (patches). She thinks that smoking is a calculated risk that people take.

Sue found it easier to quit when she wasn’t in her normal routine. She has made small changes to her lifestyle such as having a coffee instead of a fag break.

I think perhaps if you can do it at a time when you can take yourself out of your normal daily routine and, and so you’re broken from everything, that might be a way to do it. You know, even if it’s kind of a weekend with non smoking friends or something. So that you’re just out of the normal situation. And it genuinely wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, and certainly the thing that I’d been hanging onto for years about it being part of my identity was wrong really I suppose. Because I am still the same person that I was. I still have the same friends. I still see my smoking friends and I don’t feel the need to smoke with them.

And I suppose now I rebel in slightly different ways. And it’s not, the other thing is that the really interesting people aren’t the ones outside smoking, there are still interesting people inside, but may be you just to need to make the time to sit with those, for five minutes with those people and have a break, say have a coffee break or something with the non smokers rather than a fag break with the smokers.

And I think that all those, it was little things like that that made a real difference. Sort of having a different type of break, having a coffee break rather than a fag break and, and you know, it’s, it’s kind of, for a little while, it’s about managing your life style, but then actually it’s not, it’s just what you do. It’s the norm now. So that’s it.

Sue’s husband was a reformed smoker who wanted her to quit.

I mean you mentioned that you stopped for a while. Did you want to stop?

No I felt that I had to really. My husband is what you might call a reformed smoker, I supposed he used to smoke when he was young, and when I met him he would smoke the occasional cigarette when we were out or in company. And just occasionally he’d have one of mine at home as well. And then I think, I think, when I stopped when I was pregnant, he thought that was it, I’d stopped. And he would carry on having the odd cigarette whilst telling me how terrible it was to smoke. And I’d think you hypocrite, you know, just, and oh he would point out that you know, it costs money and it’s not good for you and it’s not good for the soft furnishings. This is a man who hates cushions. But you know, suddenly it was bad for the soft furnishings and the books and I think I just felt pressured by him, in a way that made me think, oh well I’m not giving up. You know, it was almost like no, actually I don’t care about the soft furnishings. And, it was almost, it’s like the young doctors telling you it’s bad for you to smoke. It’s just that sort of low level, constant pressure that makes you think, oh go away and leave me alone. So his, in fact, he probably had the opposite effect to the one he was hoping to [laughs]. As I told him quite a lot.

When Sue was a child in the 1960s smoking was a normal habit.

My parents, my grandparents, my aunts, my, actually on my father’s side his siblings and their spouses and his Mother didn’t smoke, but he did and on my mother’s side everybody smoked. So my grandparents, uncle, so it was, it was kind, and we lived, I lived next door to my grandparents and like three houses away from my aunt and uncle. So all the adults that I had daily contact with smoked. And... my mother told me that when I was really quite a tiny baby she put me on the bed and she must have had a cigarette in her mouth while she was changing my nappy and leant forward and the cigarette sort of almost left me with a bindi mark because she sort of caught me between the eyebrows. And she didn’t stop smoking. She stopped smoking whilst she was changing my nappy. So you know, it wasn’t, it was all done with sort of light hearted banter. And she said to me, “You’ll never guess what happened when you were a baby. Ha ha ha.” So it just was one of those things you know, and my mother had, in fact she died when she was 34 of an asthma attack, and she smoked and I think that, it, certainly at the time didn’t really occur to anybody that it might, her asthma might have been worse because she was smoking. Well it might have done to the adults, but nobody ever said anything at the time like if only she hadn’t smoked. So it was the norm for adults to smoke. And I think that translates itself in a way to kids as being part of the transition to adulthood. You know, if all adults smoke, when you’re an adult you will smoke, therefore I want to try smoking because I want to be grown up. So I think it was a natural progression in a way.

Sue found it strange that the smoking ban meant that smoking was always on her mind because she had to plan cigarette breaks throughout the day.


The funniest thing is when you can smoke anywhere I think in a way it’s less ritualistic. You know, you’ve got your first one, your last one of the day, but if, if you can light up and smoke wherever you are, there’s, there’s kind of less pressure on you to smoke now. Whereas if you have to go out of the building to smoke, you begin to think, oh I haven’t had a cigarette for 40 minutes. Oh I wonder if, now if I stopped doing what I’m doing now, I can take a 5 minute break or a ten minute break. If I can a ten minute break I can smoke two. 

So you’re, you’re planning all the time, you’re sort of, planning your day around your cigarette breaks and I think in a way it’s less productive, because it’s on your mind all the time. Is like if you’re on a diet and you think about food all the time, whereas if you’re not on a diet you don’t think about food at all. And it, it’s hard to give you a, a sort of what my smoking day was like from the days when you smoke anywhere, because it just wherever you fancied a cigarette. It was far more planned in the years since it became more difficult to smoke. 

Because meeting breaks would have to be timetabled as well. You could no longer go into a meeting for a whole day and say, well we’ll just kind of finish when we finish. It would be well we need a break at eleven and another one at half twelve for lunch and then one at two and then one at four. And I do, one of my friends who smokes is, is a director of a company and she insists on building in cigarette breaks to meetings. Insists, otherwise she wouldn’t make it through the meeting.


In the early 1980s Sue could smoke in numerous places, including her place of work.

Well when I, for a while in my twenties, I had a flat on my own and then I could, you know, there was no consideration of anybody else. I could do what I wanted. And I generally had a cigarette in the morning with a cup of tea or a cup of coffee and basically then continued through the day at intervals depending on what I was doing. But again, I could smoke in the office then. So, but there was one job I had where I had I think three telephones on my desk for some, I have no idea why, and they were all different colours and they ring, it wasn’t that you know, if the red one rang it would be so and so, and if the green one rang it was somebody else, but they had different numbers so the calls, you could get simultaneous calls on all of them and the number of times that I would light a cigarette and put it down because the phone rang and then it would be burnt out by the time I’d finished and, because I would have the phone in one hand and the pen in the other. And then I’d light another one and another phone would ring and it just, I seem to go through the day lighting cigarettes and then taking phone calls, and it didn’t occur to me for ages that I was wasting a huge amount of money for, [laughs] from not smoking these cigarettes.

So we often would go out for lunch there’s a little pub over the road, so we’d go out for lunch and there were three or four people there who smoked and so we’d smoke at lunch time, breaks, meetings, and then sort of when I went, oh if I went out in the evening, smoke in the pub or wherever. And there was a time when you could smoke in cinemas as well so… [Laughs] so you could just smoke everywhere.

Sue’s GP had been advising her to quit on and off over 30 years period, but he recently forgot that she had already stopped smoking three years ago.

Did you have any subsequent discussions with either you know, a practice nurse, a GP, anything like that?

No. In fact I saw my GP a couple of weeks ago and he said, “So how many a day are you smoking now?” I said, “I haven’t smoked for nearly three years.” And he went, “Oh.” I said, “This is the third time you’ve asked me that in three years. It should be on my notes.” “No, I’m just so used to you saying yes.” And I thought that again that says something, he sees me as a smoker, even as a medical professional whose been advising me for 30 years to stop smoking, he’s forgotten that I don’t so it’s, yes, it’s very odd. I mean when he looked it was on my notes that I’d stopped but he just kind of, he’s remembering the past.

And how would you manage that, you say he’s been advising you for 30 years to stop smoking…?

Oh it’s all a bit lack lustre. Yes. And at one point, I think I went and said, “Oh I think I’ll stop smoking soon.” And he went, “Well you don’t want to cause yourself too much stress. You don’t really smoke enough to be a real problem.” So, okay, that’s given the green light then, thanks very much. I can go home and tell my husband that my doctor says I should carry on smoking. But I think he was thinking that if you’re not smoking very many, which I wasn’t, then the giving up smoking can be stressful. You know, I’d started smoking because I was stressed and I think he probably thought that it would add to my stress to try and stop. But then a while later, he sort of said, “You should stop smoking.” I said, “But you said it was…” He said ‘Well’ but I think it depended on what course he’d been on recently [laughs] to be honest. His continuing professional developing seems to throw him at all sorts of things. And oh, but he was quite lack lustre about it. He’d sort of say, as he said to me the other week, “So you’re still smoking then?” And until three years ago, I’d say, “Yes.” And he’d say, “How many?” And I’d say, “Well five, ten a day. And no more than that. And usually sort of at the lower end.” He go, “Hm. Well it would be better not to.” And that would be it, you know, pass on…

Sue had been unsure about announcing she had given up smoking and also about losing a rebellious side of herself.

What were some of the other changes that you felt?

I don’t, I think one of the reasons that I kept saying to my husband in particular, “I’m not smoking for now.” Was because I didn’t want to feel pressure from him, because if I said, I’d given up completely and then had a cigarette, I knew that he’d being saying, “Oh you’re started again.” So I felt I wanted to keep that element of control. Again, I think not having given up in the past, I think I said earlier was a little bit about control as well that I was doing something that I wanted to do, so I was keeping control of it. But we don’t talk about it now at all actually, but I didn’t throw out my smoking paraphernalia. My lighter and things for ages because I wanted them there just in case. In fact I kept a couple of cigarettes in a packet. They would have been foul, but for absolutely ages, I had a couple of cigarettes and a lighter in my car, so that I could if I wanted to.

And it, I was quite proud of myself that I didn’t give into that actually. Because I think years ago I would have done. So, I think, people kept saying I’d taste things better and I’d feel healthier and I don’t do either of those things. I can smell things more and that’s not always a good thing [laughs]. We’ve got cats, and sometimes they come in smelling very catty and you think ooh I never would have noticed that in the past. So, yes. But in terms of sort of the, I think, I felt as if I was losing a slightly rebellious side of myself. And maybe I just felt old enough to let that go this time. I don’t know.

Is there anything else you want to add at all?

I don’t think so. I suppose I’m one of those awful people now that are saying, the sort of people I hated when I was smoking, when they said, it’s really easy to give up. But I, was surprised, I genuinely was surprised at how I didn’t find it difficult. And I didn’t have the cravings that I thought I would have, or the sort of desperation if you like to break into my emergency pack [laughs] which got, I changed my car and I threw it out along with the rubbish without even thinking about it. So, yes, I think, you know, the bottom line message is it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
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