THE Stoptober challenge may be at an end, but a former smoker from County Durham is urging people who have quit this month to keep going.

Ex jockey turned jockey’s valet, Steve Charlton, 65, from High Etherley, near Bishop Auckland, is sharing his quit success story in a bid to encourage those who have already packed in or people thinking about giving it a go, to experience the benefits of being smoke-free.

It comes as research shows that if smokers quit for 28 days, they are five times more likely to stop smoking for good.

Father-of-two Steve, who won Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle in 1978 and now valets for jockeys including a number of Grand National winners, had smoked for 50 years until he decided to stop after a couple of health scares.

He said: “If I can stop, anyone can. I found quitting more straightforward than I thought I would and once I got to the four week mark, I realised that it is possible to break the addiction – even if you’ve been smoking for nearly a lifetime like I had.

“I probably smoked a packet a day for around 50 years. Running a business can be stressful and I’d often unwind with a cigarette. But eventually it caught up with me and I was coughing a lot and had acid reflux in my stomach. Very often I’d be smoking a cigarette and I wouldn’t even enjoy it – I’d think, why am I doing this?

“I knew I wanted to quit but I thought I couldn’t do without them. I tried to stop a few times, but my resolve weakened, especially when I was out and I’d had a few beers. If I smelt a cigarette, that was all it took to take me back down the rocky road.”

In 2011, out of the blue, Steve was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had a kidney removed. Upon researching it, he found out that smoking is one of the risk factors. He had a second health scare earlier this year when a biopsy on his voice box showed a change in the composition of his cells, which can lead to cancer. It was then that Steve decided to quit for good.

He added: “The cigarettes were aggravating the condition. It was the wake-up call I needed to stop smoking. My GP put me in touch with my local stop smoking service and I met an advisor who was excellent. She gave me a range of options to help and I decided to try the stop smoking medication Champix.

“I admit that I was a bit reluctant at first as after 50 years I wasn’t sure I could change my lifestyle. But I can’t believe how easy it was to quit.

“I feel great now. My throat is back to normal, I have stopped coughing and my breathing is better. I feel much healthier. My family are over the moon that I have quit smoking. My daughter had been badgering me to stop for years and now I have two young grandchildren, it’s even more important to be around for them.

“If you’re thinking about quitting, I recommend going to your local stop smoking service. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I can’t believe how straightforward quitting was. Even if you have smoked all your life like I had, I am living proof that you can do it.”

Ailsa Rutter OBE, director of Fresh, said: “Congratulations to everyone who has given quitting a go for Stoptober and made it this far. If you’ve enjoyed the benefits of not smoking, our message to you is to keep going as now you have passed the 28-day mark, there is more chance of staying quit for good.

“Even if you didn’t take part in Stoptober this time round, or if you gave it a try but didn’t make it to the end, don’t worry – but don’t give up on quitting as you can do it.

“As well as the clear benefits to your health and the money you can save, the evidence is clear that quitting smoking can help to reduce stress, anxiety and depression and improve your mood. Today, there are more ways to quit than ever before and lots of help and support out there to find the right way for you.”