Doctor warns that smokers should keep trying to quit because benefits are huge.

A top doctor says smoking is harder to quit than heroin and it takes an average of 12 attempts before the habit, which kills 5000 Kiwis a year, can be truly kicked.

But Dr Stephen Child, who chairs the New Zealand Medical Association, says October - or Stoptober, as it's being called by anti-smoking campaigners - is a great time to give up.

Stoptober organisers hope to have about 10,000 Kiwis sign up to the 31-day challenge, by setting a goal they want to achieve through stubbing out their last smoke.

"Stopping could be the start of something," organiser Kelly Pohatu said, "like having more money in your pocket."


She said smokers could sign up any time during October to start the challenge.

"We're encouraging people to give quitting a go even if it's into the month of October."

Dr Child said there was a huge amount of help available for smokers wanting to give up.

"Your doctor, quitline, your friends - but only about 3 per cent of people succeed in quitting on their first attempt.

"If you use nicotine products like gum and patches it doubles your chance of giving up," Dr Child said.

But he said it was still hard.

READ MORE: Drive to kick smoking's butt

"So the message we want to put out there is to try again, and again. Don't give up. Keep trying to quit."


Dr Child said the desire to stop smoking had to come from within, and 80 per cent of people who successfully quit did so by stopping cold turkey.

Even for long-term smokers, kicking the habit had huge benefits.

"My message to big-time smokers who already have some lung damage is if you quit smoking, you are going to slow down further lung decline by a third. In other words - keep smoking and you'll be on oxygen in five years. Quit now and maybe you won't be on oxygen for another 15 years."

He said a smoker's risk of having a heart attack or stroke halved within a year of giving up, but it took about 15 years for lung cancer risk to go back to baseline.

In comparison, lowering cholesterol levels reduced the risk of heart disease or stroke by 20 per cent, and lowering blood pressure reduced the likelihood by about 15 per cent.

Proud to be a quitter

Inspired by her mum, who died of lung cancer in November, HineAo Cassidy took the Stoptober challenge and gave up smoking last year.

"Mum was never a smoker, but I was. That's what made me quit. I felt like her seeing me smoke and starving myself of oxygen was killing her. She gave me the breath of life and I was smoking it away," said the Otara woman, who works at Manukau Institute of Technology.

"One of my old memories is me waking up in the middle of the night suffering from an asthma attack as a child and crawling down the stairs to my mum. I could remember telling her I could not breathe and she saved me."

Ms Cassidy said quitting was hard - she experienced withdrawals and snapped at people - but she got through the first few days by focusing on the benefits of giving up and thinking of her mum and kids.

"Smoking was my go-to relaxant, but I soon found better things to do with my time. Every area of my life has improved now - my health, finances and appearance. I look better, feel better, smell better. I am happier and so are my children."

Her advice to those giving Stoptober a go this year is to make sure they aren't doing it alone.

"It's easier to do if you make friends with non-smokers, or initially separate yourself from those who do.

"To my brothers and sisters who smoke, kia kaha. Quit smoking and you will be stronger and better for it."

Tobacco's toll

• In OECD countries, tobacco is responsible for about one-in-10 adult deaths, equating to about 5 million each year - more than the entire population of New Zealand.

• At home, about 5000 Kiwis die annually because of smoking, or secondhand smoke exposure - that's 13 people a day.

• In 1996-97, a quarter of the adult population reported being current smokers. By 2012-13, this rate had dropped to 18%, equating to around 600,000 people.

• 15- to 19-year-olds showed the largest relative decline in current smoking prevalence (36%) between 2006-07 and 2012-13.