Smoking? You must be joking!

“Smoking? You must be joking!”  – It’s a great slogan which I’m sure will catch the eye during this year’s Stoptober quit smoking campaign.

But quitting, let me tell you, was no laughing matter!

Last October, after a great deal of badgering from our public health team as well as my friends and family, I decided I would take part in the 28 day quit challenge.

Fast forward almost a year and I’ve not had a single cigarette since.

I no longer smell like a stale ashtray, I don’t cough my guts up all the time and my breathing is much clearer.

But it’s been hard work and I take my hat off to all those preparing to take part and those who successfully kicked the habit thanks to last year’s campaign.

Explaining the cravings of a smoker to a non-smoker is tough – it’s a compulsion that is surprisingly difficult to overcome.

Physical, chemical and psychological; it’s a three pronged attack on the senses when withdrawn that remains a battle to deal with.

For those preparing to take part the best reassurance I can offer is that feeling, once battled, does pass.

Sure, certain triggers can set it off again.

Alcohol, for me, can set the cravings off like a greyhound after a hare (part of the reason I’m also getting involved with the “Sober for October” campaign).

But “nicotine replacement therapy” – patches to you and me – can really help and if you ride out the storm, the cravings do settle down (quitting the patches is nearly as bad mind you!)

The biggest positive, meanwhile, (aside from not dying of lung cancer) is undoubtedly the amount of money you put back in your pocket by quitting.

I used to spend nearly 300 quid a month on the dreaded things and the difference that packing it in has made to my bank balance is quite remarkable.

Like all good stories there is a hero too – to be more precise a group of heroes – the Blackpool Stop Smoking Service.

They’ve been a great help, both in terms of the advice and support they’ve provided as well as the practical help they’ve given.

The de-normalisation of smoking that has gone on over the last few years from the smoking ban to the strengthened health warnings and hard hitting advertising campaigns has left smokers a lot ostracised, even attacked.

Like a child who’s told not to do something – there’s a temptation, believe me, to rebel against this and say “to heck with it” I’m having a cigarette.

But the smoking service have really helped me cope with this and deal with stressful situations without using tobacco to keep me smoke free.

They can help you too so I’d urge you to give it a go.

Fat chance if you don’t exercise!

I’ve got a confession to make…… I’m a bit fat.

I recently turned 40 and, unless the weight loss fairies turn up out of the blue, I’ll go into the early part of my fifth decade on the planet weighing in well over what I should be.

If the famous boxing announcer Michael Buffer of “Let’s Get Ready to Rumbllllllle!” fame was doing the old “tale of the tape”, he would say that Simon “The Bruiser” Blackburn, from Blackpool, England, was weighing in at five feet and six inches and weighing in at 13 and a half stones (he’d probably use metric but that’s another debate altogether).

In other words, I’m above what a healthy man of my size should be.

Now I blame this, in part, on me quitting smoking (eight months and counting) and, in part, on Denise who is in charge of butties at the Town Hall.

Sadly though, the rest is down to what doctors call a sedentary lifestyle – although since Emma and I got Bentley (the Labrador, now nine months old), we do more walking.

I make light of the problem but, as we all know health, not least obesity, is a problem across Blackpool.

And there are also a number of reasons that I feel the need to take the initiative and get my own house/stomach in order.

Firstly, I’m Chairman of the Health & Wellbeing Board, secondly, I’m getting more involved in the Victoria Hospital Trust and Clinical Commissioning Group and thirdly, I’m getting married in November!

I can’t, in all good conscience, fulfil any of those important obligations without at least making some effort towards losing a few pounds.

As a result I’ve signed up at the council’s new Gateway Fitness Centre – tucked away on George Street at the back of our new offices (and before you ask, no, councillors aren’t moving in to the new building).

It’s a good, convenient, town centre gym; not lavish but modern, practical and open to everyone and you can sign up on the council’s website online.

This isn’t an advert though, more a plea for others to read about this problem, which is weighing so heavily on me (boom boom) to have a think about their own health and whether it could be improved.

There are a million and one ways to exercise from joining a fancy expensive gym, to a mid-range one, to all the sports under the sun or simply going for a good walk or even a run every day.

It doesn’t have to cost a thing and we all know that.

For more information on getting to and maintaining a healthy weight, take a look at the various help that is available.

Finally, I’m hoping to attract sponsorship to lose the weight, to raise money for the Mayor’s Charities (Donnas Dream house and The Snowdrop centre), so keep an eye on this blog and I will keep you posted – or we’ve just got a “Just Giving” account up and running (geddit?), which I’ll promote via my own social media pages, as will the Council.