POTUS Smokes

Science, technology, and life.
June 23 2009 4:22 PM

POTUS Smokes

In today's article on tobacco regulation, I wrote that President Obama was still apparently a nicotine addict . When a reporter asked yesterday whether Obama was still smoking, his press secretary answered , "He struggles with it every day."

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

This afternoon, shortly after the article was posted, Obama was asked at a press conference , "How many cigarettes a day do you now smoke? Do you smoke alone or in the presence of other people? And do you believe the new law should help you to quit? If so, why?" He replied:


The new law that was put in place is not about me. It's about the next generation of kids coming up. So I think it's fair, Margaret, to just say that you just think it's neat to ask me about my smoking as opposed to it being relevant to my new law. But that's fine. I understand. ... It's an interesting human interest story.

Look, I've said before that as a former smoker I constantly struggle with it. Have I fallen off the wagon sometimes? Yes. ... Am I a daily smoker, a constant smoker? No. I don't do it in front of my kids. I don't do it in front of my family. And, you know, I would say that I am 95 percent cured. But ... there are times where I mess up.

Two things in this answer are worth noting. One, the president denied smoking daily but didn't deny smoking. He said, "I don't do it in front of my family," not "I don't do it." It's reasonable to infer that he isn't just using some kind of smokeless tobacco or nicotine-replacement therapy. He's been smoking outright, albeit privately and infrequently.

Second, he's completely wrong to suggest that questions about his own tobacco use are irrelevant to the law he just signed. Drug policy has to be realistic. It has to work with human nature. If the president of the United States, blessed with all the quitting resources anyone could ask for, still can't control his addiction without the aid of nicotine gum, that's worth taking into account as he and others shape tobacco policy. And if he's still smoking cigarettes because gum alone isn't doing the job, that's just as important to know. We have to understand exactly what aspects of the smoking experience are addictive. Otherwise, we can't effectively modify or regulate it.

So stop pretending your smoking habits are nobody's business, Mr. President. You gave up that defense when you signed yesterday's bill.



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