Henrietta Pretty and her children

Henrietta and her children

Andrew Lansley has launched a three-month long consultation on the future of tobacco packaging, and whether all cigarettes should be sold in packs of uniform size, shape and colour.

This is a measure we fully support as a way to help reduce the appeal of cigarettes to children. It’s about giving young people one less reason to start smoking and stopping them becoming addicted to a product that kills half of all long term smokers.

In this article, mother of two Henrietta Pretty talks about her personal experience of losing her mother to lung cancer, her perspective on tobacco marketing and of wanting to protect her two young sons from becoming smokers.

My mum the addict

My mum was an addict for as long as I can remember. She’d got hooked in her teens and was never able to kick it. She’d tried several times but the draw was just too strong. On the outside she was a capable, talented woman – clever, sensible and in control of her life. It was her only weakness, but she was totally and utterly powerless to it. Smoking ruled her with an iron hold.

It was her friend, she would say, her solace. Most addicts may say they enjoy smoking but in reality it’s only ever the cigarettes that are in control, a basic addiction just clever enough to convince you you’re the one calling the shots.

In the end my mother’s “friendly” addiction killed her, on April 17th 2011, just 10 weeks after her lung cancer diagnosis. She was just 71, and left behind her 6 grandchildren, most of whom are too young to ever remember her.

My mother wasn’t always ashamed of her habit. In the 50s it was the done thing – cool, sophisticated, medicinal even. Her GP would happily offer her cigarettes from his gold enamel case when she visited him to help calm her nerves. She puffed away with gay abandon throughout the 70s and 80s, but by the 90s the sheen had begun to dull and in the new millennium the billboard posters were being pulled down and smokers ostracised from public life. My mother and her cigarettes began to see a very different reflection looking back.

So she became ashamed. Ashamed of something that she’d become hooked on in her vulnerable teenage years, and that the tobacco companies had ensured she remained addicted to throughout her life. In truth she had nothing to feel ashamed for, just angry.

Silent salesman

So the idea of tobacco companies fighting for their share of our wallet, a “silent salesman” using sophisticated marketing techniques to tempt us into addiction, totally sickens me. Packets with sexy logos and provocative branding designed to drown out the health warnings, conceived to appeal to the young and vulnerable. It’s cynical, deadly, disgusting.

So as a mother of two young boys I would do anything to stop them from getting hooked in the first place; I suspect that once hooked no amount of warning on packaging or £s added to the bill will make a difference if the habit is hungry enough.

Our only hope is to keep stepping in the right direction, keep expounding smoking as the evil, devastating killer that it is, dispelling the myth, open or subconscious that smoking is cool or even acceptable so that our children think twice about whether it fits the life they aspire to.

I should have had my mum for another 20 years. All our family have lived that long, all except mum – the odd one out. But even our strong genes weren’t a match for her cigarettes.

Marketing isn’t always totally honest, but it sure as hell shouldn’t be allowed to tempt people to their death.


Further information

Click here for more information on why plain packaging is important and to support Cancer Research UK’s The Answer is Plain campaign.