The ripple effect: six family members are kicking the smoking habit once and for all

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Waikato Mum Sharnay smoked up to 20 cigarettes a day since she was 14 years old – it had been a decade. At 24, she became pregnant and made the call to kick the habit, once and for all. Her baby daughter, Leila-Mei, was born in February this year and Sharnay hasn’t had a cigarette since.

And she’s started a ripple – since then five additional whānau members have followed suit.

Sharnay’s sister Kelly also officially quit smoking the day her niece was born, after 17 years of the habit. Their Mum Alison, and Dad William are currently on their own journeys to do the same, along with their brother Mando and his girlfriend Zahrarose. The ripple continues to grow.

Sharnay heard about Pinnacle Midland Health Network’s Once and For All stop smoking programme through her midwife and by her last trimester she felt ready to give up. Through and through, her motivation to quit has been Leila-Mei. She’d tried quitting twice on her own in the past and the longest she’d been smokefree was two weeks.

Smokers who join the Once and For All programme get intensive behavioural support with a dedicated quit coach. Each person sets a target quit date and gets face-to-face support over a four week period.

During each meeting with the quit coach, smokers blow into a smokelyser machine to confirm they have been smokefree. When they are still smokefree four weeks after the target quit date, they receive a $50 voucher, or up to $300 in vouchers if they are pregnant.

The help of Sharnay’s quit coach, Cassino Smith, has made all the difference. “Without her as a starting point I probably would still be smoking today,” says Sharnay.

So how did this family ripple come about?

Cassino was visiting Sharnay to help her begin her smokefree journey. It just so happened Kelly and Alison were also home at the time, and Cassino asked if anyone else would be interested to join. They accepted the offer on the spot – “the timing was just right” says Alison. Each time Cassino would drop by, one by one more of Sharnay’s family started coming around to the idea.

Alison has been smoking for 35 years and had tried quitting on her own twice before. She’s quitting to support her daughters.

William has also smoked most of his life, and has attempted to quit on his own “lots of times.” But this time feels different – he says he’s getting older and wants to be around for the grandkids – his biggest incentive.

William decided to start his journey the day Sharnay went into labour. “Cassino has helped keep us on track,” he says. “Her words of advice and ways to quit are really helpful. She gives us tactics to cope and lets the person drive their own journey.”

Since embarking on their smokefree journeys, the family members have noticed they feel more energetic, food is tasting nicer, they can breathe comfortably and they’re happier. “I feel like we’re more in contact with our emotions too,” says Sharnay.

Some of the wider family were surprised when they realised Sharnay had quit.  But it’s slowly started a domino effect.

“The house rules have changed a lot now,” they laugh. “You have to go out the gate if you’re going to smoke.”

Supporting each other has been a big part of the family’s success. “Boredom makes you light up, so quitting together helps,” says Alison. “And doing things, anything, even housework. We give each other a bit of stick too if we see someone go to light up.”

Leila-Mei doesn’t know it yet but the influence her birth has had on her family is pretty big. Sharnay has written about the positive impact Leila-Mei has had on her family in a book she’ll keep for her daughters 21st.

Sharnay’s perseverance was the starting point, and her dad describes her as having always had a “strong mind”, but her family’s commitment to the cause has been their own. “I’m proud of them,” she says “and thankful too for their support”.

Cassino has worked with lots of families to support their smokefree journeys, “but this is the biggest ripple spread. It really shows the closeness of the family,” she says.

“It’s a privilege to go into people’s homes and help with a thing that is really hard to do,” says Cassino. “I want their journey to be a really good experience and to know it is ok if they need to come back again and ask for help.”

“Cassino takes the pressure off,” says William. “It’s in the invitation. She’s asking us to try not asking to definitely succeed.”

Cassino says the desire to want to quit is half the battle won but you need a good reason to keep going. This family have all the reason they need.

When asked what Sharnay might tell others about her experience, she says “a lot of things seem hard to do when first thought about, but you can do anything if you put your mind to it. Especially when you have good motivation to drive you to succeed. I took this opportunity to better myself and you can to. Think of the outcome – being able to live a happier and healthier lifestyle for you and your babies. Having that little bit of extra money to spend on better things as well as extra time to spend with loved ones. That’s what’s driven me. Leila-Mei is the apple of my eye.”

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