“Nobody told me until I became addicted”

VERA TIGHE started smoking when she was 12 years of age because all the film stars did it.

Her first cigarette made her sick but that did not stop her having a second straight after.

"I never drank alcohol or took drugs because I knew they were bad. Nobody told us that smoking was dangerous," said the 61-year-old mother of four grown-up children from Donaghmede, Dublin.

"When I had my first child I was sitting up in bed in a hospital ward with my baby on one side and a cigarette and ashtray on the other. Nobody told me it was dangerous until I became addicted."

She's not the only one. Yesterday, those whose health has been wrecked by smoking addiction pleaded with the tobacco industry to give them their day in court.

A new campaign group the Injured Smokers for Justice said their tobacco addiction was overwhelming.

The group represents 138 people who have been caught up in the legal process for up to seven years. At least 35 of them have died waiting.

All are seriously ill and some continue to smoke.

Next Tuesday, 17 cases are due to go before the High Court.

Ms Tighe has been waiting four years to have her case heard and is hopeful she will at last have her day in court next week.

She was 40 years of age when she discovered that smoking could damage her health but, by that time, she was well and truly hooked.

Four years ago, Vera was told she had lung cancer. "I started smoking again because of the stress of having half of my lung removed. Two years ago, the remainder was taken away.

"Some smokers can give up the habit but we are not all the same. Some people can give them up and some can't," she said. "I have given them up now because I have lung cancer."

Group co-ordinator Francis Dunne, whose father John has full-blown emphysema, expects the tobacco industry to have their high-powered legal team ready to block them at every turn.

Mr Dunne said similar actions had already been fought in the United States and Australia with the tobacco industry settling many cases and losing others.

He wondered why the tobacco companies were blocking the legal process in some countries and not in others. It had already been established that nicotine was more addictive than heroin.

"We are asking the tobacco industry to call off the big legal guns and give us our day in court," he said yesterday in Dublin.

Mr Dunne, from Laytown, Co Meath, said his father was 75 and had been waiting seven years to have his day in court. His mother Anne, who also smoked, died of cancer a number of years ago. She was 63 years of age.

John, who still smokes, now lives with his son, who is married with a young family. "We just want to be sure that my father's last days will be as comfortable as possible," said Mr Dunne, who never smoked.

"My father just cannot survive without a cigarette. His body shakes all over if he does not get fix of nicotine."

Eileen O'Connor from Rathmines, Dublin, who celebrated her 73rd birthday on St Patrick's Day, has also been waiting seven years to have her day in court. She started smoking in 1947 when she was just 16. "They (the tobacco companies) are probably waiting for the rest of us to die because we are all on our way out anyway," she said. Widowed in her early 40s with two young children, Ms O'Connor worked on the production line in Cadbury's, Dublin. She was forced to retire two years early in 1994 after contracting emphysema.

"I gave up smoking for three years and went back on them last year. The three years I was off them I thought about cigarettes every day," she said.

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