"From struggling to walk up a flight of stairs to running marathons, Chris Baxter is the perfect example of someone who has turned their life around – and he says it’s all down to vaping.
As the month-long national Stoptober campaign launches for the first time featuring e-cigarettes in its advertising, Chris says he believes the switch from regular smoking has saved his life.
E-cigarettes are now the most popular quitting method in England, and last year more than half of all those taking part in Stoptober opted to use an e-cigarette to help.
Dad-of-one Chris has a similar story, having turned to e-cigarettes after several other methods failed.
Chris had been smoking since the age of 16, when he would buy a packet of 10 cigarettes with the wages from his Saturday job.
This ritual slowly became habit, and Chris first became known as a social smoker, then a heavy smoker.
Chris, who lives in Galgate with his wife Carol, said: “I started smoking at 16; everyone smoked then. I had the occasional cigarette on my own and to be honest I loved it. I needed a little space to myself to step outside and with a cigarette you could get the chance to do that.”
Chris made his first attempt to stop smoking nine years later, when he was 25, and tried using many support tools available, including patches, gums and spray.
Unfortunately, Chris found the withdrawal symptoms were too much for him to handle, and he often relapsed.
By the time Chris was 50, he had been smoking for more than 30 years, and felt that his health was suffering as a result.
He had a persistent cough and was unable to perform any aerobic exercise, and he was told that if he ever required general anaesthetic, he would be too unfit for it.
“I would always manage to abstain for a few days but then something would come up and I would be back on it again,” Chris, now 63, said.
“By the time I was 50 I had given up on giving up. When I was 58 my health started to suffer. I had a terrible cough and would get dizzy on stairs.
“I work outdoors as a groundsman and my general overall health was fine. It was purely the smoking that was the problem."
Chris and Carol, also a smoker, decided to try vaping with e-cigarettes about five years ago after seeing someone using one in a Lancaster pub. And from his first try Chris knew he would never smoke again.
“We drove to Blackburn and each bought an electronic refillable cigarette,” Chris said. “We sat in the car and filled them up and gave it a go. I knew immediately that I would never smoke again and I haven’t.
“You can feel some nicotine in it. It was nothing like a cigarette but just enough to keep me off them.
“That was five years, two months and six days ago.”
Chris, who has a son Jack, 30, quickly noticed an improvement in his health.
“The cough went in two or three weeks,” he said. “I began to exercise gently. Five months in a friend challenged me to do the Swaledale marathon; I hadn’t done one for 24 years.
“I started out on Clougha Pike; from the car park to the top and back is 5km. I did it again and again and my time improved.
“Eleven months after stopping smoking I found myself at the starting line of the marathon and I didn’t know if I could do it.
“I finished 350th out of 450, which I was thrilled by. I was 59 and hadn’t done it for 24 years. That was just 11 months since I had been choking on cigarette smoke and could barely breathe.
“Since then I have done it twice more. I have also run up and down Clougha in 56 minutes and five seconds; before, it was taking me 45 minutes just to get to the top.
“When I was a smoker, running down Clougha with my son, laughing and joking, would have been the impossible dream.”
New data published in a University College of London report shows quitting success rates at their highest for at least a decade, up to 19.8 per cent for the first six months of this year, significantly higher than the average for the last 10 years of 15.7 per cent.
Prof Gina Radford, deputy chief medical officer, said: “The battle against smoking is far from over – it is still the country’s biggest killer, causing 79,000 deaths a year. And for every death, another 20 smokers are suffering from a smoking-related disease.
“Far too many people are still dying as a result of smoking but there has never been a better time to quit – the culture has changed, strong legislation is in place and effective support is available.
“It’s never too late to give up – any smoker, no matter what their age, will feel the health benefits within months.”
While the use of e-cigarettes has divided health professionals and anti-smoking lobbyists, some of whom say the risk to long-term health remains largely unknown, Prof John Newton, director of health improvement at Public Health England, backs up what Chris believes about the benefits of vaping over smoking.
He said: “The evidence is clear – vaping is much less harmful than smoking, a fraction of the risk. So if you’ve struggled with quitting before, an e-cigarette may be the best option for you.
Chris, meanwhile, is so enthusiastic about the change in his life that he is keen to extol the virtues of vaping to others – so much so that he has even given talks at national conferences.
“Vaping has been so controversial that I have joined in with trying to advertise it,” he said. “I told my story at a cancer research event for Public Health England North West for the smoking cessation team. Vaping has saved my life and has the potential to save millions of lives.
“There’s no other country where the government is supporting it. We are leading the way. In the UK we have got the best data and all the evidence is positive. There’s no evidence that teenagers are going on to smoking [from vaping].
“The highest rate of smoking has traditionally been in 18 to 24-year-olds and? they are now abandoning smoking faster than any other group. That’s because of vaping.
“All the scare stories are nonsense. Anyone looking at the facts knows that while they are not completely safe, because nothing is, it’s a no brainer. Vaping is at least 95 per cent safer than smoking according to the latest report 18 months ago by the Royal College of Physicians, who were the first medical body in the world in 1962 to highlight that smoking causes lung cancer. Unfortunately, the scare stories have worked and there are lots of people out there who believe that vaping is more dangerous than smoking.
“That figure is rising because of the scare stories. We need to get the right story out there and reverse that.”