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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 November 2005, 06:34 GMT
Smokers get help to quit as they knit
By Alison Freeman
BBC News, London

The Knit to Quit stop-smoking group
The first meeting attracted eight women who want to stop smoking
Most of us have seen the anti-smoking adverts showing artery-clogging fat glooping out of the end of a cigarette.

Or the one where blood clots swim under the skin of smokers as they puff away.

But if these stomach-churning images are not enough to get people to stop smoking, then why should a knitting group be any different?

"Because research shows you are four times more likely to succeed if you have support," says Rachel Heywood, organiser of the Knit to Quit group which held its first session this week.

The 42-year-old, from Brixton, south London, has just given up her 20-year, 30-a-day habit and set up the group where women can meet, knit, and support each other as they quit smoking.

As I've got older I've realised how hugely damaging it is
Rachel Heywood

She started the group on the night which marked four weeks since she last had a cigarette - the NHS now consider her a non-smoker.

Ms Heywood took to knitting as it gave her something to do with her hands other than lighting up.

This is not the first time she has quit, but she feels that now is the right moment for her.

"My son, who's now 15, hates me smoking and was desperate for me to give up," she said.

"And as I've got older I've realised how hugely damaging it is.

Lena McDonald
Lena's grandson helped her decide to quit her 30-year habit

"I find it bizarre that it's socially acceptable even though nicotine is more addictive than most Class A drugs - except for crack."

Among the first arrivals at the first meeting is 47-year-old Lena McDonald, from West Dulwich, who had her last cigarette just three days ago having smoked up to 40 a day for the past thirty years.

Her four-year-old grandson, with whom she is very close, is a key part of her decision to quit.

"I told him I was stopping smoking and he said, 'good Nanny, now I can come in your room and it won't stink of smoke'. It really made me think."

Smoking is an addiction and you wouldn't say to someone who had a different addiction, like heroin, that they should just use will-power to stop
Julie Browne
Stop-smoking counsellor

But the trip to the group was not an easy one for the grandmother.

"I'm embarrassed," she said, "because needing to come to a support group shows that I am weak and don't have will power. I'm embarrassed that this thing has such a hold over me."

But stop-smoking counsellor Julie Browne makes it clear to the group that none of them should feel that way.

She is keen for women to use nicotine replacement patches and gum which she says "gives you the buzz but not the crap that you get when you smoke a cigarette".

"I think will-power is a red herring and feeling embarrassed or ashamed is really not helpful," she said.

Laura Hollis-Ryan
Laura was 13 when she had her first cigarette

"What people aren't honest about is that smoking is an addiction and you wouldn't say to someone who had a different addiction, like heroin, that they should just use will-power to stop.

"Many women in particular start at a very young age like 12 or 13, when they are too young to realise what they are getting in to."

Laura Hollis-Ryan, from Peckham, south London, is only 25 but had her first cigarette when she was only 13. By 15 she was a fully-fledged smoker.

She gave up over a year ago.

"I had high blood pressure and the doctor told me to give up smoking for a week. When I went back to see him it had dropped and it really scared me - so I just stopped.

Rachel Heywood
Rachel Heywood used to smoke more than 30-a-day

"But a lot of my friends still smoke and over the last six months I've gradually started smoking again.

"I still tell myself that I am a non-smoker because I don't get up in the morning and have one.

"I think knitting could help me because it will give me something different to do with my hands, but to be honest, I'm not sure I'd take it to the pub with me."

Knitting may be the key to helping these women give up but Ms Browne says there is one factor that matters most.

"You can't make people give up, they've got to want to."

Grants are available for people wanting to set up their own stop-smoking club from Lambeth Primary Care Trust via the Centre for Public Innovation.

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