NEWS chief reporter Steve Sowden has been celebrating the first anniversary of a smoke-free lifestyle – not with a big cigar, we hasten to add, but just quiet satisfaction that he has managed to beat the dreaded weed.

It was back on January 9, 2012, that Steve quit smoking and he has stuck to his guns and stayed away from the fags ever since.

He initially got support from nicotine patches and the Somerset-backed NHS Stop Smoking Service, but Steve says it was the readers of the Chard and Illy who helped him the most.

He said: “I put a monthly update in the paper about how I was getting on and I knew in my head that people were watching to see if I was going to falter and try and have a sneaky fag.

“So I was determined not to lapse.

“Everywhere I’ve been over the past year, people have been asking me about how the no-smoking has been going. And, to be honest, the only time I’ve thought about smoking has been when I’ve been asked as to how the no-smoking was going!

“Even when I went abroad last year on holiday I wasn’t tempted with me thinking that there might be a Chard and Illy reader lurking by the pool!” Steve said he would like to thank the NHS Stop Smoking Service for their encouragement in the early days and he would urge anyone else wanting to give up the dreaded weed to give them a call.

He said: “Although at the end of the day it is down to you, the Stop Smoking Service can give you all the support you need.”

You can phone the Stop Smoking team on 0303-033-9840 or look at their website at .

Steve was sponsored £1 for every day he was smoke- free up to a year by the Ilminster Lions Club and, with it being a Leap Year, he is now able to claim £366, while Chudley International, of Ilton, also pledged to give £100 if he completed the year-long challenge.

He said: “I’m chuffed to have completed a year and the money raised will go towards the Piers Simon Appeal’s School in a Bag initiative.”

But he added: “The only downside to giving up smoking is that I’ve put on weight . . . perhaps that will be my next challenge to sort out!”