The former EastEnders star is supporting this year's campaign.

Don't think you have the willpower to stop smoking? Well, Laila Morse - who you'll probably know as 'Big Mo' from EastEnders - smoked for 50 years, before managing to successfully quit.

She's one of a handful of celebs supporting this year's Stoptober, which is back for another 28-day run throughout October. The idea is, if you manage to stop smoking for 28 days, then you're five times more likely to quit for good.

Loading article content

Since its launch in 2012, Stoptober's inspired more than a million UK adults to stop smoking, and Laila's hoping her story will help encourage the nation's remaining 7.6 million smokers to stub out for good.

Here, the 72-year-old actress, who left EastEnders in 2016, tells us how she managed to quit - and why she's so glad she did...

'Everybody smoked, it was fashionable'

"I started smoking when I was 15, but [before then], I used to pinch my mum or dad's cigarettes," recalls Dorking-born Laila, who took part in last year's Celebrity MasterChef. "We had outside toilets in those days - I used to go out there and light one up.

"When I started smoking, there were adverts of people smoking everywhere; that lovely Frank Sinatra-looking man standing at a fountain, you know, 'You're never alone with a Strand', and Audrey Hepburn - everybody smoked, it was fashionable."

'A health shock led me to quit'

50 years ago, nobody talked about health risks of smoking. It wasn't until more recent decades that scientists really began studying the damaging effects of smoking and a wealth of undeniable evidence quickly built up. Smoking is extremely bad for your health, and is recognised as a key risk factor for many types of cancer and heart disease.

Laila says she thought about quitting over the years, and tried "about 12 times", but didn't manage to kick the habit - until a visit to the doctor gave her an alarming wake-up call.

"I went for a cholesterol test," explains the mother-of-two. "When I went back to get the results, the doctor said, 'Your cholesterol's really high, it's 12, you're on the point of having a stroke or a heart attack'. Well, it frightened me," she admits.

'I worried I was going to die'

"When I left the surgery, I threw away the cigarettes I had in the car. I thought, 'Oh God, am I gonna die?' I was worried."

Determined, she bought herself an e-cig, but says: "I used that for two or three weeks and, in the end, I thought, 'Well this is exactly the same as smoking really, I don't want to do it'. So I just stopped. And that was near enough three years ago. I haven't had a cigarette or smoked since and, ooh, it makes me feel sick to think about it."

'It feels great not to smoke'

When asked whether she can feel the difference, now she's been smoke-free for a few years, and Laila couldn't be more positive: "Yes! I can taste my food better... I don't run up the road or go swimming and have to be all huffing [and saying], 'Hang on a minute', and all that.

"It's tremendous, I feel really good. It's a bit disappointing that I didn't do it years ago, because it's great not to smoke."

And it's not just feeling fitter and healthier, either. No longer having to live with the "horrible" side-effects of smoking - like the lingering smells - is another big bonus. "Your clothes smell, you can smell it in the house. You only really notice it once you've stopped though," Laila notes.

'Just give it a go'

In the end, after 50 years as a smoker, Laila was able to quit after going cold turkey - but she knows it's not always that simple. In fact, statistically, people are more likely to quit successfully if they seek advice and aids, such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), including patches and sprays. Some of these are available on prescription or to buy over the counter in pharmacies, and there are lots of 'Smokefree' support services available for free on the NHS.

"It's an addiction, and sometimes [when you're trying to quit] you can't think of what to do with your hands, or you always put smoking together with drinking and stuff like that," Laila acknowledges.

She's adamant about her advice though: "Just give it a go. There are lots of places in your community you can go to for support - you can go to your doctors, they'll always help you. And there are lots of different ways you can try and do it too. Vapes [e-cigs] didn't agree with me, but that's an option. You've got patches, tablets, little sprays - they can all help.

"I don't think I'll ever smoke again, it makes me feel sick to think about it... So just give it a go, it can't hurt, can it? It saves your life!"

  • There's lots of extra support during Stoptober, including a smokefree app, Stoptober community Facebook page, face-to-face advice, a messenger bot and daily emails to help keep you on track. To find out more, search online and visit nhs.uk/oneyou/Stoptober.