Cigarette & RL ... match made in

Lighting up a cigarette at the rugby is as second nature to a lot of fans as shouting for a forward pass or an offside. 31% of the population in the working class, rugby league heartlands of northern England smoke, with the figure alarmingly rising to well over 50% in many areas. Smoking has been a big part of the game in the past. Until recently Silk Cut cigarettes sponsored the Challenge Cup and some players are well known smokers.

The fans chuckled as Barry Ward came onto the pitch during a home coming parade puffing on a cigarette. The same fans have witnessed stars including one ex GB international smoking very publicly for years.

You could?ve seen Lee Briers out and about indulging in similar pleasures in the past, but not anymore.

Like many boys in the area, Lee started dabbling with tobacco at a very young age. His first smoke came at just 10 years old. Despite being a very talented sportsman right through his teenage years, by the time he?d left school his habit had intensified and he had become a fairly heavy smoker. ?I didn't like it, but kept going - I suppose because I was addicted. We smoked because we had a child-like mentality to 'follow the leader'.?

Young men are easily influenced and peer pressure often plays a big part in teenage smoking. But the tragic end to the tale of Briers? smoking days could hopefully make them think twice about smoking and to see a star not only big in the game but in touch with the people talk about the perils of smoking, could help youngsters see that lighting up isn?t necessarily ?cool?.

Lee has been cold turkey for three years now. What made him suddenly stop? Drop in fitness levels? Ban from the coach? Was it affecting his performances?

No. Lee found out about the dangers of smoking in one of the hardest ways possible. In 2001, his older brother Brian, a social smoker, was diagnosed with cancer. He was given an 80% chance of surviving and began a chemotherapy course.

The chemo made Brian ill and he was admitted into hospital. Then one morning, the Briers family were awoken to be informed that his condition had worsened. By the time they had got to the hospital, Brian had passed away. Aged just 34, the death came as a massive shock. He had died only 5 weeks after the initial diagnosis.

The Briers family is extremely close and are immensely proud of Brian. The youngest of 5, Lee was talking about his brother?s death for the first time last month in a bid to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking. It?s obvious that the older brother who was described as a ?kind, generous person? is still sorely missed as the 3rd anniversary of his death looms.

No young man should go through what Brian had to go through or what Lee has. He really regrets not having the chance to say goodbye and the pain is still prominent, ?It was such a massive shock. It?s such a big hole in my life and my family's. It was so out of the blue.?

Like Lee, I also had my first cigarette at 10. I didn?t like it and for the next 5 years I resisted it. But at 15 I lost my Grandad, a friend and a role model. Like Brian, he was a smoker. Unlike Brian, he wasn?t battling cancer so I never saw first hand the true evils of smoking. By smoking I felt close to him. I would have a cig and talk to him. I soon knew that I had to stop though and kicked the habit a few months later.

I still used to get the urge to light up one more time for old times sake. But after listening to Lee?s story I don?t think I could ever do it again. And for anyone out there considering taking smoking up, Lee has the following message:

"I?d really like to get the message across to kids that it isn?t cool to smoke. I'd like to tell them not to be fooled by your mates saying: 'Try this'. That's how most people start. But all you?re doing is killing yourself."

RL stars are heroes in the community and can influence youngsters. Hopefully this young star?s tragic tale will stop kids from finding out about the dangers of smoking the hard way.

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