Mosgiel’s Bill Overton smoked three packs - a total of 75 cigarettes - each day, until his doctor told him if he did not stop he would be dead within the year.
At the time he was 35.
Now 81, he is certain he would never have survived if he had continued the habit, which he picked up at just 14.
"It’s just the way I was at the time, how I lived my life ... I used to cough like bloody hell, and I still carried on smoking."
However, one day at a checkup with a doctor, Mr Overton was told he would soon be dead unless he quit immediately.
He never smoked again.
A few weeks later it became clear just how much damage had already been done.
He had asked the woman at the Christchurch house where he was boarding to wake him up early to get to his job at a bakery.
"She bloody woke me up all right, she screamed - I had long clots of blood hanging out my mouth".
Blood was "everywhere" - covering his face, and staining the pillow and mattress.
He intended to go to work anyway, but those at the house insisted he go to hospital instead.
Tests were carried out and they found "all sorts" of unpleasant things, he said.
Surgery was swiftly scheduled for the following week.
"They took half my lung away, and I’ve been without it since."
Given the way he had been smoking, he had no doubt cigarettes were the cause.
For creating Dunedin’s first wheelchair taxi service he was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal as part of the 2006 New Year Honours list for services to the community.
Mr Overton said when he began smoking as a teenager there was no public awareness that it was a dangerous habit.
However, health workers had now been warning against it for a long time, and doctors had been especially vocal recently, he said.
Last month the government announced plans to repeal amendments to the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act 1990, including a world-first ban on the sale of cigarettes to future generations.
It aimed to repeal legislation restricting the sale of tobacco to anyone born after 2009 and the phasing in of low-nicotine cigarettes.
Finance Minister Nicola Willis has acknowledged money saved by scrapping the smoke-free laws will be used to help fund tax cuts.
The government has argued that it will continue to discourage smoking, and a ban would create a black market.
However, doctors throughout the country - including the 23 who gathered outside Dunedin hospital on Tuesday - have slammed the plan, warning that it will lead to deaths the legislation would have prevented.
Mr Overton said he was upset with the government’s approach.
"They should be encouraging people to knock off full stop. No "yes or no". Just "no".
"No smoking - wouldn’t it be nice?"
He felt sorry for the doctors, who worked hard day after day to help people who had damaged their health by smoking.
They must get tired of having their warnings ignored, he said.
"They don’t tell you these things for nothing."