Terminally-ill former smoker to front anti-tobacco campaign

One person quitting ‘would make it all worthwhile for me’, says Wicklow father of three

A Wicklow man suffering from terminal lung cancer will feature on a series of TV, radio and online advertisements aimed at encouraging people not to start smoking and provoking smokers to quit.

Gerry Collins from Greystones was diagnosed with terminal cancer six months ago. He took part in a previous anti-tobacco campaign in 2011 after he had been successfully treated for throat cancer.

Gerry, a married man and father-of-three, said: “I hope this campaign adds some value in helping people along the way either not to start smoking or to stop smoking. There are no positives in smoking whatsoever. I’m the living or dying proof that that is the case.”

He said his decision to contact the HSE following his recent diagnosis was “one of the first things that came to mind” following the success of the publicity campaign in 2011 in which he took part.


Gerry appears in the first of a series of advertisements publicising the Quit campaign, sponsored by the HSE, which airs on January 1st.

In it, he portrays the real-life struggle of a man whose health had been destroyed by tobacco and the challenges he and his family face following his diagnosis.

There were three main factors behind his decision to front the commercial campaign he said.

“Firstly it was for myself, a positive thing for me to invest my energy in while dealing with my cancer. Secondly, I thought it would be good for my family, creating something powerful and meaningful for my kids to look back on.”

Finally he added: “If even one person stops smoking because of what I’ve done then it will all be worth it for me.”

Fidelma Browne, the HSE's head of public communications, said their research had shown that real-life stories were much more effective than messages involving actors. She said her first concern was for Gerry's welfare and that of his family and friends, many of whom were at the 2014 Quit campaign launch in Dublin today.

She promised he would be kept updated on the anticipated success of the Quit campaign with more and more smokers contacting the HSE, visiting the Quit website or calling its helpline.

Dr Fenton Howell, national tobacco control adviser at the Department of Health, said: "This is going to have a lasting effect on smokers in Ireland. We know this works. The evidence base is very strong that using this kind of testimonial from an individual about what it means for them can be very impactful with the smoking population."

He said people intending to quit “would draw inspiration from these ads”.

Surrounded by his friends and brothers, Gerry thanked the HSE and film-makers for their kindness and professionalism.

The crew were “like a second family”, Gerry said. “They were just fantastic, just so kind to us.”

Turning to his wife Delly, daughters Lisa and Ciara and son Stephen, Gerry said he had underestimated the difficulties they would have to face throughout the making of the commercials.

“They faced into those interviews with incredible courage and commitment to support me even though I knew they struggled with that.”

Smokers attempting to quit can visit quit.ie or call the QUITline on 1850 201 203.