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War cigarettes spark 44 years of heavy smoking

Media Statement
The Asthma Foundation

6 November 2012

War cigarettes spark 44 years of heavy smoking

“I was 15 when I started – my uncle sent my dad home boxes of cigarettes from the war and I used to flog the odd one and smoke in the shed. That was the beginning of 44 years of heavy smoking, generally about 30-35 cigarettes a day,” said George Anderson.

George has COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. COPD, which is chronic bronchitis and emphysema, affects hundreds of thousands of Kiwis, yet most people have never even heard the term COPD. COPD in New Zealand, and worldwide, is a major cause of ill health, disability and death that develops as a result of tobacco smoking. This hasn’t stopped George though. He’s taken positive steps to manage his condition and lead a full life.

It was 1994 when George finally gave up. “My wife was in Auckland at an indoor bowls tournament when I saw an ad on Nicobrevin on TV and thought it would be a good idea to try to give up while she was away.”

It cost George $168 for 40 tablets. He took one Friday, one Saturday and then stopped. George went from a heavy smoker to nothing in 48 hours. “I was one of the lucky ones who was able to give up. I gave the rest of the tablets away.” In just two months of not smoking the tablets had paid for themselves.

What amuses George is that his wife didn’t notice for 2-3 days – then she twigged. She was pretty happy but didn’t believe it. “I had tried to knock off before, had tried to go cold turkey and it didn’t work – the support of the tablets was what I needed to stop,” said George.

George noticed some immediate benefits from not smoking. He enjoyed the taste of his food more and he didn’t wake up in the morning with a rotten taste in his mouth. “I always used to blame that on the beers but when I gave up smoking I realised it was the cigarettes,” he said.

In 2007 George started to notice shortness of breath. He went to his GP who told him he had emphysema or COPD. George is one of the estimated 200,000 New Zealanders affected by COPD, 85 percent of these people are ex-smokers.

On his doctor’s advice, George went to COPD classes and joined the gym, and he’s been going to the gym, where possible, five days per week ever since. This has allowed George to take control of his COPD and have a good quality of life. “I honestly believe if I hadn’t seen my GP, joined the gym and worked on my breathing exercises I wouldn’t be here today,” said George. He also attends their monthly COPD Support Group meeting.

George is now one of the “old timers” at the COPD classes. Those with respiratory issues usually go twice a week for six weeks. Once at the classes they recommend you join the gym through the green prescription programme. As an “old timer,” George comes to tell the new people what going to the classes and gym has done for him and what the classes can do for them if they continue.

“It makes you feel good to know that you’re helping someone else that needs it. This programme keeps people out of hospital, keeping hospital beds free – which is what it’s all about. If you go into hospital with an illness it costs a lot to keep you in there – it doesn’t cost anywhere near that if you go to the gym to keep yourself fit. These programmes need more money – it makes sense to support these programmes so we don’t go to hospital,” said George. In 2006 COPD was responsible for an estimated 9,250 hospital discharges, 88,800 bed-days (1.5 percent of all bed-days) and $192 million in direct health costs in New Zealand.

Another benefit of taking control of his COPD is that in November last year George had a hip replacement and in October he had two separate operations to take a cataract off each eye. “They would not have put me under anaesthetic if I had not been exercising and keeping myself as healthy as possible. It has been to my benefit to keep well,” said George.

George is a big supporter of Asthma Hawke’s Bay, which recently celebrated their 40th anniversary. George was also a Supreme Achiever at the Foundation’s Achievers’ Awards in 2011. “It was a surprise to get the nomination and an even bigger surprise to win. I thought, ‘Why did I get it? I haven’t done anything.’”

“The overwhelming message that came through from our Supreme Achievers is that managing your condition can be the difference between letting your condition run your life and achieving your goals,” said Angela Francis, chief executive of the Foundation. “George is an excellent example of someone who has not let his condition stand in the way.”

George’s message to those who are breathless is get yourself to your GP so he can help you; if you can, do some exercise to manage your condition; and definitely give up smoking.

As for those who are thinking of smoking, “I see young people smoking and think you silly little beggars – but you can’t say anything, they’ve got to find out for themselves.”

World COPD Day is on 14 November. The Asthma Foundation is urging smokers and ex-smokers who have breathing difficulties to talk to their GP or contact their nearest asthma society.

This year’s World COPD Day theme is ‘It’s not too late’ to improve your respiratory health at any stage.

Contact Cindy Borrie, communications consultant on 0274 433 905.
COPD facts and figures:
• COPD has a substantial impact on the health of New Zealanders. Although often undiagnosed, it affects an estimated 15 percent of the adult population over the age of 45 years (at least 200,000 New Zealanders).
• More than 85 percent of the burden of COPD arises from tobacco smoking, with contributions from cannabis use and dust exposure in the workplace.
• COPD is the fourth leading cause of death after cancer, heart disease and stroke.
• COPD is an irreversible disease but is almost entirely preventable by avoiding exposure to tobacco smoke. Over 15 percent of all smokers are likely to become affected.
• COPD is estimated to cost up to $192 million in direct health care costs each year.
• In 2006 COPD was responsible for an estimated 9,250 hospital discharges and 88,800 bed-days (1.5 percent of all bed-days).
• COPD accounts for about 200,000 GP visits and more than 453,300 prescribed medications.

The Burden of COPD in New Zealand summary report:


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