Jody Benson of Tifton, Georgia, remembers it like it was yesterday: the day she took her first drag of a cigarette.
“I began smoking when I was 16 years old,” Benson said.
Like many smokers, Benson said she started out smoking because of the crowd she hung around.
“I had some really good friends growing up, but they were all smokers, every one of them,” Benson said.
Her new-found activity was not very enjoyable in the beginning.
“In the first three to six months of smoking, I would have really intense, dizzy headaches,” Benson said.
Even though she was feeling bad, she kept it up. After six months or so of continuing to smoke, Benson said the headaches began to slowly go away. She was unfortunately now enjoying smoking, one of the deadliest habits known to man.
Benson smoked daily for the next five years. She would smoke about a pack and a half per day, including up until the time she met Wayne Benson, her husband. He was also a smoker, so now she had not only a life partner, but a partner to accommodate her smoking habit. The talk of children with her husband began to change things. That’s when Benson became pregnant. The thought of smoking while carrying a child was not something she would consider.
“I liked smoking, but not enough to risk the baby,” Benson said.
With the pregnancy, she was not only celebrating their first child on the way, but also the fact that she was looking at not smoking for the first time in five years, since she had first picked it up at the age of 16.
Benson gave birth to Lee, the couple’s first child, in 1981. Cole, child number two, was born in 1985. As with her first child, Benson remained smoke free during her pregnancy. Two consecutive pregnancies provided incentive for her to remain smoke-free.That’s five years without a cigarette. However, the unintentional influences of friends and co-workers pushed Benson back into old habits just nine months after the birth of Lee, and at a time when she felt she was ready to go back to work.
“I went to work for a local grocery store, and as a new employee, I had to go through training with several other employees,” Benson said.
The training was in Waycross, Georgia, several miles away. The group decided to all ride together, which put Jody in the same car with her co-workers, all of whom were smokers.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Benson said about her willpower to remain cigarette-free. Her continued exposure to her “smoker friends” simply became too much to overcome. After having kicked the habit for five years, she was once again a smoker, and this time around she remained a smoker for 29 years. She estimates a pack and a half was her daily consumption of cigarettes from age 26 to 55. But, on days when the stress was really bad, Benson could go to two packs a day.
“I really enjoyed smoking,” she said. “I’m not going to lie.”
Which is the very reason it took a major health scare to finally get her to quit for good. In early 2014, Benson noticed that she was becoming short of breath quite easily.
“I couldn’t walk 4 or 5 feet without getting out of breath,” she said.
Despite what smoking was doing to her body, Benson kept up her routine: Take a break, walk outside with her co-workers, and smoke – or, in Benson’s case, try to.
“I’d light up a cigarette and just cough uncontrollably,” she said.
Finally, Benson forced herself to see a doctor, who diagnosed her with Bronchitis and suggested that she quit smoking.
On Dec. 2, 2014, Jody Benson smoked her last cigarette. She was done. A 34-year smoking habit, interrupted for five years to have two children, was no more.
Benson said she really has no problems with the urge to smoke again, even when in the presence of fellow smokers.
“It’s impossible to completely avoid other smokers, but it really doesn’t bother me at all,” she said. “And I certainly don’t miss it!”