ANNIE Pluse smoked her first cigarette when she was 14 years old.

Soon she was up to 20-a-day and was still smoking when she fell pregnant at 26. Even that was not enough to persuade her to quit.

She said: "I smoked all the way through my pregnancy and even my midwife said it was disgusting, but still I chose not to listen.

"I used to smoke in the kitchen, I didn't stand outside, but when Meg got to about two-years-old she started to notice the smoke on me.

"She commented on it even at that young age, which made me step back and think I wasn't being very fair."

Mrs Pluse set herself a target of giving up by the time she turned 30, then, with time running out, she noticed a poster for a cessation group, at her doctor's surgery in Newton Aycliffe.

She was waiting to see her GP about a throat infection she seemed to get every four months or so, which she used to attribute to an infection, a bug or even the air conditioning system at work - anything but smoking.

She started attending the Tuesday evening group at the Pioneering Care Centre, in Newton Aycliffe, and smoked her last roll-up cigarette a year ago.

She said: "I stayed for four months and loved every minute of it, but I got to the stage where I had learned that much about the effects of smoking to your health I was teaching other people.

"I amazed myself. The shortness of breath had gone and I could play with my daughter without getting out of breath, which is quite embarrassing to admit to."

Two months after leaving the group, having achieved all she could, she saw an advertisement for a smoking cessation worker and decided to apply, despite only having previous experience in banking.

She got the job and now runs the same group in the Pioneering Care Centre, which helped her to quit the habit.

The group has 19 members and has a 64 per cent success rate.

Mrs Pluse will also be establishing eight-week courses in Ferryhill and Trimdon Village in the New Year.

She said: "I've never done this kind of work before, I've always worked in customer services and had a fantastic rapport with people. I speak well to people face-to-face and it just felt right. Learning to stop smoking is realising what makes you smoke.

"Many people don't realise that you've got to change a few things - with me it was a cup of coffee and a cigarette, so when I stopped, I drank tea.

"And people really do draw from the fact that people are going through the same thing they are.

"When you give up smoking you are very isolated. It is such a personal battle."

Anyone wanting to give up smoking can contact Mrs Pluse for futher details on 0191-303 3813/3811.