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Barack Obama smoking, Obama quit smoking, Obama Brokaw interview
George R. Skadding/AP
President Franklin D. Roosevelt smokes a
cigarette at Herring Cove on Campobello
Island, New Brunswick, Canada on July
30, 1936.

Obama’s Smoking Sheds Light on Presidential Bad Habits

December 09, 2008 12:58 PM
by Josh Katz
Barack Obama says the White House will stay smoke-free, while admitting that he has smoked recently. But several other presidents have smoked or chewed tobacco.

Obama Promises Smoke-Free White House, Despite Equivocation on Habit

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President-elect Barack Obama sparred with Tom Brokaw on a number of issues facing the country during Meet the Press on Sunday, including a more personal one: his smoking habit.

When Brokaw asked him if he had quit smoking, Obama conceded
, “There are times where I’ve fallen off the wagon.” But the president-elect gave himself a slight pat on the back, saying, “I’ve 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,” CBS News reports.

It’s hardly the first time he’s been asked about his smoking. Prior to Election Day in November, Obama told Men’s Health that he had smoked a couple cigarettes while he was campaigning. “But I figure, seeing as I’m running for president, I need to cut myself a little slack,” he said.

In a February 2007 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Obama said that his wife, Michelle, had convinced him to quit smoking. In February 2008 he said that he was chewing Nicorette to break the habit, and in June he mentioned that he had not smoked a cigarette in months. The Men’s Health and Tom Brokaw interviews indicate that he may have stretched the truth before or reverted somewhat to his old ways.

But the Chicago Tribune makes one distinction about Obama’s semantics in the Brokaw interview. “He said in the White House. That doesn’t mean he might not sneak a few drags out in the Rose Garden.”

Related Topic: Presidents, smoking and bad habits

If his habit continues into his presidency, Barack Obama will be in a very small group of presidents who have smoked cigarettes. An article in Cigar Aficionado that details the smoking tendencies of U.S. presidents says that there have only been two cigarette smokers: Dwight Eisenhower and Franklin D. Roosevelt. “Ike and FDR stuck to cigarettes as did both their wives and several other twentieth-century first ladies including Jacqueline Kennedy,” according to the magazine.

Cigars, chewing tobacco and pipes, on the other hand, have been much more common. John Adams, James Madison and Andrew Jackson were some of the many presidents known for their love of cigars, and more recently, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton smoked cigars as well. Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison and Gerald Ford preferred the pipe, while Grover Cleveland had a proclivity for chewing tobacco. Taft was a cigar smoker, but dropped the habit while he was president.

President George W. Bush stayed away from smoking, but he did have a drinking problem years before he took office. Bush quit drinking in 1986, and he told ABC News in December 2007, “I doubt I’d be standing here if I hadn’t quit drinking whiskey, and beer and wine and all that.”

Reference: Quitting smoking and New Year’s resolutions

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