Here are few addictions that are tougher to tame than smoking cigarettes, but add the pressure that comes with living in the White House, commanding our military, and dealing with a 9 percent unemployment rate, and … well, what is difficult bumps up against impossible.
But the news is that Barack Obama has finally licked the habit he picked up when he was little more than a child and, according to his doctors, was found to be in excellent health during a recent physical. He is eating well, exercising often, and a trim 181 pounds.
Way to go Mr. President.
It was always disconcerting to see the photographs that would occasionally leak of this nation’s 44th president with a butt between his lips. Obama’s smoking was also at odds with the federal government’s determined effort that dates to the Clinton administration to clear the country’s air by making cigarettes so expensive that no one could afford them, and for those who could, limiting the places where they could be smoked.
The plan is working, and in 2008 for the first time in decades fewer than 20 percent of American adults smoked cigarettes. The bad news is that we seem stuck at that percentage, so further inroads depend heavily on young people never picking up the habit.
Perhaps surprisingly, not many of our presidents have been cigarette smokers. Several, including Presidents Kennedy and Nixon, enjoyed cigars, President Ford preferred a pipe, and Clinton, well, he didn’t inhale.
The nation’s first chain-smoking president was FDR, and the last president before Obama to smoke regularly was President Eisenhower.
Obama seemed an unlikely smoker. Born in 1961, he was 5 years old when the Surgeon General first placed warnings on cigarette packages advising that smoking “may be hazardous to your health.” When Obama was 9 years old, the warning was modified to the certainty that smoking “is dangerous to your health.”
We assume Obama wasn’t a smoker by the age of 9, so when he started, he did so aware of the risks. That he was an educated person made him less likely to light up, because all the studies show that the odds of someone smoking cigarettes goes down which each day in school.
A smoking president is an easy target as the butt of the joke. But smoking really isn’t funny: It is an adept killer, a purveyor of cancer, heart disease, and breathing ailments, and it raises the cost of health care — a huge threat to our economic well-being — for all Americans, not just those who indulge.
Most importantly, there is no figure in America more widely admired than the sitting president, and young people tend to copy those they idolize. Maybe now a few adults will try as well to emulate the president, and stop what almost all of them will tell you they wish they had never started.