She had her first cigarette when she was eight. By the time Carol Naera was in intermediate, smoking had become a habit.
But after years of daily smokes, the Kaitāia woman found an incentive that helped her quit cigarettes for good: her grandchildren.
The 54-year-old grandmother of two has been smoke-free for two years and doesn't look back.
Naera's overall wellbeing has improved noticeably and she is saving up to $200 a week – money that was previously spent on a pack of 20s a day.
"My parents were chain smokers. Everyone in my family smoked so I didn't think much about it," Naera said. "Back in the day, it was just normal."
All her classmates smoked and peer pressure fuelled the habit, which would become Naera's addiction. At 15, it was normal to smoke in the presence of her parents at home.
She said there wasn't much education about the side effects of smoking when she was young but even though Naera and her husband John continued to smoke at home when their own kids were born, none of their children turned out to be smokers.
It was Naera's daughter who approached her mother when she was pregnant with her first child and told Naera that she had to quit smoking if she wanted to be around her grandbaby.
"It's been two years and I haven't had a smoke," Naera said.
She sometimes uses a vape when the urge to smoke gets strong, but cigarettes are no longer part of Naera's life. Her husband quit cold turkey – no patches, no gums, no vapes.
"It's unbelievable how he did that."
Now that Naera is smoke-free, she notices the pungent smell of tobacco on others.
"My daughter always used to say: 'Mum, your smoke stinks'. Now I can smell it. Far out, it stinks."
But it's more than that: "I feel a lot better. I've got heaps of breath now and so much more energy. I will never go back."
Her body is still recovering. A little cough lingers and sometimes the nicotine cravings kick in. But Naera has learned to manage them.
She said her whole mindset had changed. If she now sees young people on the street with a cigarette, she is appalled.
Meanwhile, Naera supports her sister, who has been trying to quit for a while.
She encouraged people who struggle to quit to never stop trying. Also, stopping smoking for a specific reason or with a goal in mind – like Naera had with her grandkids – helps along the journey.
Toki Rau Stop Smoking Services Northland, a free programme by Te Hiku Hauora run region-wide, refers people like Naera to practitioners who coach and support smokers willing to quit.
Stop Smoking practitioner Ngaire Harrison finds the right practitioners for people who sign up with Toki Rau.
There are about a dozen 'stop smoking' coaches from Whangārei up to the Far North who do home visits – remote communities included – and regular check-ups on the progress their clients make.
Toki Rau co-operates with other health initiatives including hapū māmā groups.
People are considered smoke-free once they pass a test with a machine that detects carbon monoxide levels in their breath.
"Some people may take longer to quit but that's OK," Harrison said. It was about showing commitment.
She said one of the reasons the programme is in the hands of Māori health providers is because the Māori percentage of smokers is higher than for non-Māori.
According to the 2018 Census which provides the most recent data, 18.2 per cent of non-Māori in Northland smoke regularly compared to 31.2 per cent of Māori.
Twenty-eight per cent of non-Māori have quit smoking while 23.2 of Māori have given up cigarettes.
Harrison herself quit smoking before starting her role at Toki Rau. She had grown up in a household of smokers and smoked regularly from the age of 13.
"My brother would light up for my mum when he was five. It was socially accepted."
Harrison completed the Toki Rau programme and is now helping others.
She called Smokefree 2025 a "big goal" for Northland but was optimistic the region could slash the number of smokers.
The national Smokefree 2025 campaign aims to have less than five per cent of the population smoking tobacco by 2025.
To contact Toki Rau, call 0508 TOKI RAU (0508 865 4728) or email email@example.com.