Obama still lighting up, but anti-smoking groups laud effort to quit

Anti-smoking advocates are trying to use Obama’s cigarette struggles as an opportunity to send a message to Americans about quitting.

After President Obama's first health checkup as President, doctors report he is still smoking. Rather than attacking him for setting a bad example, anti-smoking groups have praised his efforts to quit.

Despite President Obama’s pledge to his wife and children to quit smoking, he apparently has yet to kick the habit.

Doctors reported that finding Sunday as part of Mr. Obama’s first checkup as commander in chief.

Yet anti-smoking advocates view the president’s cigarette struggles not so much as a setback, but rather as an opportunity to try to get more Americans to quit. And they place more importance on his desire to snuff out his tobacco usage than on his success in those efforts.

In particular, antitobacco advocates are using Obama’s experience as a talking point for young people.

“The difficulty he has quitting should send a message to our nation’s youth just how tough an addiction it can be once you start,” says Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington.

If Obama does ultimately quit like millions of other Americans, this will be even better, antismoking advocates say.

“Should the president be able to quit, we and every antitobacco organization will hold him up as a shining example that even with all the stress he is under, it can be done,” says John Banzhaf, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in Washington and a law professor at George Washington University. But he adds, “Right now, he’s not a poster boy for showing that people can quit.”

Smoking is a subject that Obama appears to be sensitive about. Antitobacco advocates can’t remember any photos of him smoking. The president has said he doesn’t smoke around his children or family. He continued the policy of a smoke-free White House.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, his wife admitted she “outed” his smoking habit, saying one of her prerequisites for his entering the race was that he had to quit.

After Obama signed legislation last June giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) greater authority over tobacco products, he was asked about his own smoking. According to a White House transcript, Obama said that he struggled with tobacco addiction but was not a daily smoker.

“I get this question about once every month or so,” he said. “And, you know, I don’t know what to tell you, other than the fact that, ... like folks who go to [Alcoholics Anonymous], ... once you’ve gone down this path, then ... it’s something you continually struggle with, which is precisely why the legislation we signed was so important – because what we don’t want is kids going down that path in the first place.”

One group has viewed Obama’s smoking issues as an opportunity to promote cigarette alternatives. In a statement Monday, Jeff Stier, associate director of the American Council on Science and Health, said the president’s experience “proves not only how addictive cigarettes are, but also the failure of current tools to help people quit smoking.”

Mr. Stier adds, “That’s why we encourage the use of e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.”

E-cigarettes are nicotine delivery devices. They look like cigarettes, but they don’t contain tobacco. Instead, a heating chamber turns the nicotine into a mist that can be inhaled, and a battery makes the tip of the device glow like a cigarette. (For more on e-cigarettes, click here.)

However, Mr. Myers notes, there is no evidence that e-smokes help anyone quit. “There are no controls on the nicotine or anything in it,” he says.

According to Myers, the United States spends $96 billion a year on healthcare related to tobacco use.

The healthcare legislation before Congress includes billions of dollars geared toward “preventive” healthcare. It’s expected that some of the funds would go toward smoking prevention efforts.

“Reducing tobacco use not just saves lives but also a huge amount of money,” Myers says.

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