WITH months to live, Gerry Collins, 57, a former Dublin footballer, has become the face and voice of adverts urging smokers to quit before it is too late.
Collins, a father of three from Greystones, Co Wicklow, was this week back in hospital for treatment.
He was told last June that he had eight months to a year to live, after doctors discovered he had an inoperable lung tumour.
“I hope to continue in the fight against smoking. For me, it is a nice legacy to leave behind,’’ he says.
The former GAA star, who first spoke to Feelgood in 2010, started smoking aged 17 and had a 60-cigarette-a-day habit. In 2008, he was diagnosed with throat cancer, but overcame it following treatment.
“I believed I had survived cancer. One in every two smokers dies from tobacco-related illnesses. I thought I was the number two, now I know I am the one,’’ he says.
Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe, the HSE national director of health and wellbeing, says this hard-hitting campaign will encourage more smokers to quit. “By working with us, discussing his smoking, his illness, his expected death and the anticipated loss to his family, Gerry hopes to inspire other people to quit smoking and help them to avoid the pain of illness and premature separation from their loved ones,’’ she says.
Since the launch of the national Quit Campaign, in 2011, more than 480,000 Irish smokers have quit.
According to the latest HSE figures, there are 800,000 smokers in Ireland — 17.5% are aged 55-plus — placing a huge burden on the health service.
Smoking-related diseases cost the HSE up to €2bn in care annually.
Smoking is the leading cause of death in Ireland, killing 5,200 each year.
Many of those aged 55-plus have been smoking since they were teenagers, not realising the damage they were causing to their health. According to the Office of Tobacco Control’s latest research, 53% of all Irish smokers started before the age of 15.
However it is never too late to give-up.
The majority of people who quit smoking go ‘cold turkey.’’ If you need support, the Quitline is there to offer advice and encouragement.
The music and TV mogul, Simon Cowell, 54, is under huge pressure from family and the media to give up his 40-aday habit before the birth of his son, next month.
Rarely seen without a cigarette in his hand on a night out, Cowell, who says he began smoking at the age of eight, says he constantly thinks about cigarettes.
“Smoking is associated with nice things. And, in fact, sometimes while I’m having sex, I’m actually thinking I want to hurry up and finish, so I can have a cigarette,’’ he says.
However, earlier this month Cowell was repeatedly photographed smoking in the company of his pregnant girlfriend, Lauren Silverman, and, not surprisingly, was heavily criticised in the media and by health experts.
“Tobacco smoke is toxic and can harm the unborn child, so it’s really important that pregnant women avoid breathing in tobacco smoke, whether through active or passive smoking,’’ says Amanda Sanford, research manager with Action on Smoking and Health.
If Cowell continues smoking, the chances are that he will not live a long life, given his family history.
“Simon’s mother, and some of his closest friends, have been nagging him for some time about trying to stop smoking. His grandfather, Robert, was a heavy smoker who died of lung cancer,” said a friend recently.
“His father suffered a heart attack. It should make Simon think long and hard about his own health now.’’