Teenager, mother and cancer survivor front anti-smoking drive

Pauline Bell

A teenager who lost her mother to lung cancer is fronting a new hard-hitting anti-smoking campaign.

Leaving Certificate student Margaret O’Brien will tell television viewers what life is like without her mother Jackie, who died 18 months ago.

Mother-of-two Pauline Bell, whose husband died from a heart attack, and throat cancer survivor Gerry Collins also participate in the Health Service Executive’s campaign to get smokers to quit for the new year.

Their three-minute stories will be broadcast on New Year’s Day to highlight the fact that one in every two smokers will die of a tobacco-related disease.

Margaret, from Kilkenny, will reveal what she misses most about her mother who was diagnosed with lung cancer aged 45. Her story will be aired at 9.28pm on RTE 1.

“It’s not just for a day, it’s not just for a month, it’s for the rest of my life without her,” said the teenager, who has raised more than €2,000 for the Irish Cancer Society by shaving her head.

Heavy smoker George Bell, from Wexford, was just 48 when he died from a heart attack.

His widow Pauline and their children hope his story – to be aired at 7.45pm on TV3 and 9.45pm on Universal – will inspire others to quit.

“He loved his cigarettes, but never thought that at 48, that would be his time to go,” added Mrs Bell.

Meanwhile Gerry Collins, who survived throat cancer, will describe how he started smoking despite playing football for Kilmacud Crokes GAA Club and making the Dublin Senior Team at the time.

The Wicklow man, who is MD of Jobsource Recruitment, and his daughters Lisa and Ciara describe how frightening his illness was at 8.45pm on RTE 1.

Smoking is the single biggest cause of illness, disability and death in Ireland.

There are about one million smokers in the country and each year 5,500 Irish people die of a tobacco-related disease. But while 70% of smokers say they want to quit, just 40% try.

Dr Fenton Howell, director of public health, said: “Evidence from all over the world has shown the impact that real-life, personal stories, like Pauline, Gerry and Margaret’s, can have on smokers’ drive to quit.

“We spoke in detail to Irish smokers before we started this campaign, and they told us that this ’one in every two’ statistic was powerful, and that using real-life stories to illustrate it would motivate them to stop smoking.

“We’re very grateful to all the people who are bringing this campaign to life by telling their stories – they are central to the meaning and success of this campaign.”

The short films can also be viewed at www.hse.ie and www.quit.ie.

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