Life took an academic and musical turn for Lisa Hawkeswood after she quit smoking a year ago.
And now, in the build up to World Smokefree day on May 31, she is encouraging others to follow her lead.
The Auckland resident was a smoker from the age of 15 but that all changed in February 2013 when she decided to give it up.
"I'd always wanted to quit and I'd tried before but it never quite worked," the 46-year-old says.
"I've got a 15-year-old son and he'd always be at me wanting me to give up. He didn't want me to die."
Hawkeswood, who lives in the eastern suburb of Bucklands Beach, saw an ad about free quit smoking courses and decided to go along.
"I wasn't expecting to like the course ... I thought I'd arrive and just give it a go."
Hawkewsood, who is part Maori, was alarmed at the number of cigarette-related deaths in New Zealand.
Ministry of Health data shows 48.3 per cent of Maori women were smokers in 2009, more than three times the number of non-Maori.
The seven-week course run by East Health Trust focused on giving people strategies to quit smoking.
One method encouraged participants to find hobbies to occupy their time and keep them distracted.
Hawkeswood was hooked.
"I needed to do something ... if I didn't I'd be sitting here thinking 'when can I have my smoke'?"
She started her Graduate Diploma in Business at AUT University in February 2013 while also working fulltime.
"My boss has been very supportive, she mentored me through my first paper.
"It's a bit stressful at times but I'm in the flow of things now."
Hawkeswood has five more papers to complete and expects to graduate next year.
Giving up smoking was "hell" at first but taking up singing also helped create a new group of friends, she says.
"They told me singing was a good activity. I'd always wanted to give New Zealand's Got Talent a go, so I put a wildcard entry in last year."
Hawkeswood met a talent scout as a result who put her into a talent show at an RSA. She likes to play Amy Winehouse songs and put money she was buying cigarettes with towards a karaoke machine.
She says she sees her smoking friends a lot less now.
"It was the only way I could stop the habit of sitting down with a glass of wine and a cigarette," Hawkeswood says.
Her next focus will be spending time with her son and finishing university.
"I'd love to do more singing and shows, but I need to make a living. So for now I'll keep it as a hobby."
East Health Trust will be running a campaign next week to raise awareness for World Smokefree Day on May 31.
The Counties Manukau Health quit van will be at Botany Town Centre between 11am and 3pm on Monday.
There are also free quit smoking courses run by East Health Trust that run for seven weeks.
Go along to 260 Botany Rd on Monday night at 6.30pm.
Call 538 0599 for more information.
- Eastern Courier
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