Smoke got hold of my senses

Smoke got hold of my senses

When Sun-Herald columnist and TV host Chrissie Swan was snapped smoking, her secret was out. As her Sunday Life column had already been printed, she agreed to tell her full story here.

Last Monday about midday I had a cigarette in my car. Within 48 hours I had made two tearful, soul-baring and shame-fuelled confessions. One on radio and one on national television. Because it wasn't just a cigarette. I am pregnant. And smoking. And I'd been photographed by a paparazzo who had tailed me from work.

"Loathsome" ... Chrissie Swan bares her soul about her addiction.

"Loathsome" ... Chrissie Swan bares her soul about her addiction.

Despite my work, I lead a very ordinary life and keeping my eyes peeled for photographers is not something I've ever done. So I had no idea what was going on.

I am not a heavy smoker. I am not even a light smoker. But I am a smoker, and I have been having an occasional cigarette throughout this pregnancy. I would do it in my car, alone, and never more than once a day. That was the creepy deal I struck with myself. It has been the worst, most guilt-inducing thing I have ever done.

It is also completely illogical. Because, despite knowing the horrific risks to me and my baby, I continued to do it. I am the sort of mother who buys organic fruit because I'm concerned about pesticides on my kids' snacks. They never go anywhere without sunscreen. And I never took a drag during my previous pregnancies.


My kids have never seen me smoke. I will be keeping them away from newsagencies this week and doctors' surgeries for the rest of their lives so they don't come across a copy of Woman's Day. The thought gives me palpations.

I told all this to my Quitline counsellor and was heartened to hear: ''Classic case. Third baby. Busy mum. You didn't have time to quit.'' It is easy to say there is no excuse for smoking through pregnancy. But I have found out now there is one. And that is addiction. It is a terrible thing to admit, but there can be no other reason for continuing to smoke, despite the whole concept of it contravening the most powerful of my instincts: my maternal one.

Let's go back to that fateful Monday. As soon as I heard the clicking of the camera, I knew I would be forced to divulge, in public, my humiliating secret. I realised the whole of Australia would want to hang me, but what was worse was that I had kept my addiction a secret from my partner, my parents, my sisters, my best friends and my colleagues and now I would have to tell them too. Not one of them smoked. I was nauseous within minutes.

It is not easy to keep a secret from those around you. I'd hide my stash in a glovebox, under the car seat or in the zippered pocket of my handbag. I'd get nervous if my one-year-old started rifling through my bag. I wouldn't let my partner use my car.
I didn't want my loved ones to be repulsed by me. I didn't want to shock them or make them think they didn't know me at all. I didn't want them to think I was an idiot. I just didn't want them to feel about me the way I was feeling about myself. That I was loathsome.

But when I made my tearful admission to my fella, he was calm and more concerned that I could barely breathe because I was so upset. I had to explain that the pictures would appear in Woman's Day. That his parents would know I was an idiot. That all his friends would be horrified.

None of which turned out to be true; he assured me of this and said we would get through it with no problems. He didn't even have to check if I would stop smoking. He knew I'd quit five seconds after the picture was taken.

The reaction of those around me has been nothing but supportive and, though I have steered clear of social media and news websites, I have been told the general vibe was one of understanding. Everyone knows smoking while pregnant is wrong, especially those who are doing it. Especially me.

Secrecy made it easier to stay addicted. I was surprised at how many confessed their secret smoking habit to me. By telling everyone, the secrecy was gone and with it the ability to keep smoking. So if you're a smoker and you hate it and you're being sneaky – tell someone. Perhaps it will break the cycle.

So what now? The cigarette I got caught smoking was my last and on Monday it will be a week since then. My Quitline is checking in on me on Wednesday. I feel relieved. A few times a day I get the urge to smoke and I do something else. Alex from Quitline has identified my trigger place as the car, as it was the only place I could smoke. We've decided I'd listen to my own music (not The Wiggles) or call a friend on hands free while I'm driving. Every time I do this I forget I used to smoke.

I have had the kind of week I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy but, ultimately, it's been positive because I have asked for help, I have stopped smoking and I feel peaceful and authentic and truthful.

I am not alone. Quit Victoria told me that the day after I confessed, calls to the Quitline doubled. Twice as many people called and said: ''I don't want to smoke but I don't know how to stop. Please help me.'' They say my revelation caused this. That's something anyone would be proud to tell their kids.

Chrissie Swan

Chrissie Swan is a TV presenter, Sunday Life columnist, and co-host of Mix 101.1's breakfast show in Melbourne and 3pm Pick-Up nationally. She's also a mum of two.

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