Smokers go on TV to tell us why they are dying

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The Independent Online
It took three heart attacks at the age of 31 to persuade Sylvester Khokhar to stop smoking. Now he is to tell a nationwide television audience how his world fell apart.

Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor, reports on a new style of anti-smoking campaign.

"No one wants me any more. I have got my whole life in front of me and employers don't want to know me. When I go for a job interview they say fine but when they look at my medical record they say 'no thank you'."

After 18 months without work since his illness struck, Sylvester Khokhar's future is bleak. The heart attacks that nearly took his life have taken his livelihood and his hopes. Married with three children he is now dependent on his wife, Gloria, 34.

Mr Khokhar, a former factory worker, has given up smoking, changed his diet and started walking instead of using the car. But it is too late to save his career. "I have learnt my lesson in a very hard way. I don't want to see others get hurt in the way I did. I'm lucky to be alive - I had three heart attacks in three days. I tell my three kids if they smoke they may pay with their lives."

Mr Khokhar's bitter experience is featured in a new pounds 2.5m television advertising campaign to run for three months from Boxing Day.

Designed to shock, it shows real life stories of smokers who have suffered serious illness as a result of their habit. Tracey, 36, has lung cancer which has spread to her brain and glands. David, 50, has emphysema, the lung condition that restricts breathing.

Research published by the Health Education Authority, which commissioned the advertisements, shows that almost two out of three school pupils who smoke regularly think they are no more likely to get lung cancer compared with others of their own age.

Mr Khokhar said: "When you are young you don't think far. Young people are sitting ducks for cigarette advertisers and drug pushers. I want to wake them up and bring them to their senses. I hope anyone who sees these ads will think twice before taking a puff."

A survey by the Office for National Statistics published yesterday shows that young teenagers think many more adults and children smoke than actually do. More than a quarter thought that all or most people of their own age smoked although the actual proportion is one in eight.

Non-smokers are under social pressure to smoke. The survey found more than a third had been offered a cigarette in the last six months. Smokers tend to keep their habit secret. Six out of ten thought their parents did not know they smoked.

A spokeswoman for the Health Education Authority said: "The people in our new television ads are graphic examples of the pain and suffering caused by smoking. They are still young and they face serious illness and possibly death because they smoked."

The Government was caused further embarrassment over its decision to exempt Formula One motor racing for 10 years from its proposed ban on tobacco sponsorship after findings from the Office for National Statistics survey showed it was the sport most firmly linked in young people's minds with smoking.

More than one in three teenagers connected cigarette sponsorship with motor racing compared with one in four who linked it with snooker, one in six with cricket and one in seven with rugby. However, more than one in four also connected it with football, which does not employ tobacco sponsorship. Almost all young teenagers said they had seen cigarette advertising in the last six months, most on billboards and in magazines.