Obama and Cigarettes

Posted Jan. 02, 2011, at 5:50 p.m.

Has President Obama really sworn off cigarettes? It sounds like it. Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said in an interview with CNN: “It’s been about nine months since he last smoked a cigarette. He has done enormously well in quitting, It was a commitment that I think he made to himself at the end of health care and with his two daughters in mind.”

But let’s hear it from the president himself. After all, he has quit in the past and started up again. Rather than leaving it up to his press secretary, he would do better for himself and for the rest of the country if he publicly followed the simple schedule recommended by the National Cancer Institute’s Tobacco Control Research Branch:

Set a target date, a week or two in advance.

Get rid of all cigarettes, to remove the temptation.

Tell friends and family, so that they can support your effort.

Talk to your doctor about antismoking medications.

Finally, when you feel the urge to start smoking again — as you will — wait awhile, breathe deeply, take a drink of water and do something else.

President Obama may have done most of that already. He made his latest try at quitting the habit last February after his annual physical checkup. Doctors at the National Naval Medical Center pronounced him in “excellent health,” but they said he needed to “continue his nonsmoking efforts” and continue his “nicotine replacement therapy.” He admitted in June that, with the help of nicotine gum or patch, he was only 95 percent cured, adding, “There are times when I mess up.”

Mr. Obama, like any other smoker, finds it hard to quit this devilish habit fostered by an industry that has settled upon a product that is cheap to manufacture, easy to promote and highly addictive. He knows full well that tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death and that half of the people who don’t quit smoking will die of smoke-related problems.

Some may excuse the president because of the stress he has felt in the legislative disputes over health care and other issues and future stress after the Democratic electoral defeats in November.

But others who want to quit, among the remaining 40 million hard-core American smokers, feel stress, too. That is why a public pledge, a set date, getting cigarettes out of the house and enlisting the support of friends and relatives can strengthen a decision to break the habit.

Outspoken presidential leadership could help the many Americans who would like to quit smoking. It would also reinforce Mr. Obama’s own determination.

Perhaps, as Tom Brokaw has suggested in The Washington Post, incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner, an acknowledged addicted smoker, and President Obama could continue their recent start at bipartisanship by joining forces in an antismoking campaign. That might do the country more good than extending the tax cuts for the rich.

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