Smokers in South Tyneside can now get extra help to give up – from people who know better than anyone what quitting is like.
The UCan scheme will pair up smokers with a Peer Pal – a trained person who has been there, done it and can offer help using their own experience.
The Peer Pal can then stay in touch using WhatsApp or text messaging, to give encouragement when you need a bit of support.
“There is a lot of evidence that you’re more likely to succeed with this kind of support,” said Dr Dave Julien, Clinical Director at NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). “This is free, flexible and friendly support from someone who knows what giving up is like. When you feel that craving coming on, your Peer Pal is there to say yes you can do it, you don’t need to light that cigarette.”
Launched this month, UCan provides extra help alongside the range of support from stop smoking advisers. With a team of volunteers signed up, the scheme can pair smokers with a Peer Pal from a similar age and background.
Former college lecturer Sue Mountain finally beat the addiction after two battles with laryngeal cancer, which affects the voice box.
“I started smoking at 11 years old,” says Sue, now 54. “I was given dinner money for the first time and instead of dinner I bought cigarettes. It was advertised as the cool thing to do – I didn’t think about cancer.
“I smoked for 41 years and couldn’t seem to pack it in no matter how hard I tried. There was very little help then – just that horrible chewing gum.
“Then I was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. My voice kept disappearing but there was no pain, so I never related it to cancer. My partner said to go to the doctor and I was sent for tests.
“I came out of the hospital after hearing I had cancer, and the first thing I thought of was to light a tab. I then gave up, but after having cancerous cells lasered and a few tests came up clear, I started to smoke again. Whenever I had an appointment with the specialist I would stop smoking the day before, because I didn’t want to let the doctor down – then I’d start again afterwards.
“That’s why I believe in UCan – I understand the addiction and how it messes with your brain. I look back on how much I spent over 41 years and I could have bought a house with it. The worst thing is knowing my daughters had to see me going through cancer treatment.
“After the cancer came back, I did pack it in, and I’d never go back to it now. If I can help one person to give up, it’s worthwhile.”
Everyone who uses stop smoking services in South Tyneside will be offered a peer pal, unless they choose to opt out. The peer pals, who include former smokers as well as people who have helped family members to quit, are all trained to perform the role safely.
UCan is supported by NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), South Tyneside Council and Inspire South Tyneside.