One of the more obscure facts about Barack Obama is that he is a smoker, which is to say he indulges in cigarettes from time to time. Barack Obama’s smoking habit came up during his Meet the Press interview with Tom Brokow.
Barack Obama had the following exchange with Tom Brokow on Meet the Press on the subject of smoking:
“MR. BROKAW: Finally, Mr. President-elect, the White House is a no-smoking zone, and when you were asked about this recently by Barbara Walters, I read it very carefully, you ducked. Have you stopped smoking?
“PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: You know, I have, but what I said was that, you know, there are times where I’ve fallen off the wagon. Well…
“MR. BROKAW: Well, wait a minute.
“PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: …what can I tell…
“MR. BROKAW: Then that means you haven’t stopped.
“PRES.-ELECT OBAMA: Well, the–fair enough. What I would say is, is that I have done a terrific job under the circumstances of making myself much healthier, and I think that you will not see any violations of these rules in the White House.”
If Barack Obama was just a little bit cagey about his smoking habit, it was for a good reason. Smoking cigarettes has not be socially acceptable behavior since a short time after the Surgeon General announced that it could cause a variety of lung diseases, including cancer and emphysema. Gone, for the most part, are the days in which smoking was considered cool, even sexy.
On the other hand, both the government and the purveyors of popular culture have sent mixed signals about cigarette smoking. It is if they were following St. Augustine’s prayer, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”
The government has enacted a variety of programs to encourage people not to smoke, everything from financing smoking cessation therapy to heavy taxes on cartons of cigarettes, The government has fined tobacco companies for shady marketing practices for a product which, after all, tends to kill people who use it. Warning labels ore mandated on packs of cigarettes and young people are strongly discouraged from taking up cigarette smoking. On the other hand, the government offers subsidies to tobacco farmers.
Hollywood has produced a number of polemics against smoking and the tobacco companies, including the Russell Crowe film The Insider. The weirdest slap against smoking in a movie was in the Kevin Costner epic flop, Waterworld, in which the bad guys are called “smokers” because they indulge in salvage cigarettes. On the other hand, Hollywood actors still occasionally light up on the screen, when the plot and/or character call for it.
No doubt there will be some finger pointing at Barack Obama for the bad example he sets by not stopping smoking altogether, even if he does follow through on his promise to not let anyone see him smoke in the White House, which leaves, by the way, the Rose Garden, the South Lawn, Air Force One, and a myriad of venues on Presidential trips. But Barack Obama need not worry. The media will protect him, as they protected John F. Kennedy from people finding out about his womanizing. Not one picture, not one piece of video, ever showed Barack Obama smoking on the campaign trail.
Barack Obama can turn his nicotine addiction into an advantage. Just as Franklin Roosevelt struggled with paralysis and John Kennedy with his bad back, Barack Obama can spin his cigarette smoking into a disability. Millions of people have managed to quit smoking, but millions more still struggle in the awful grip of demon tobacco. Barack Obama could gain sympathy by counting himself as one of the latter group.
The horrible possibility remains, though. What if Barack Obama comes down with a lung disease like cancer or emphysema while in office. It has happened to men in their forties who are long time smokers. Death in those circumstances is not sudden, as with previous Presidents, but slow, painful, and ugly. That should provide Barack Obama a new impetus to kick the cigarette habit, not only for the sake of himself and his family, but for the nation, sparing the spectacle of a President slowly wasting away in office.
Source: Meet the Press Transcript, December 7th, 2008