Obama as ex-smoker-in-chief: Was he really afraid of Michelle?

President Obama was overheard telling a UN official that he hadn't had a cigarette in six years, because he was 'scared' of his wife. Michelle says: 'He didn't want to look his girls in the eye.'

David Karp/AP
President Obama, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, arrives at JFK International Airport in New York on Monday. Later in the day, he was overheard telling a United Nations official, 'I haven't had a cigarette in six years ... that's because I'm scared of my wife.'

For regular smokers quitting isn’t easy, and the motivation to do so – health reasons or social mores – isn’t always strong enough.

But when a person can’t just head outside to light up and enjoy, when photos of him mid-cigarette could become a public health endorsement to all the globe’s children, well, then perhaps that habit gets rethought. Maybe.

But it really helps a person kick that dependence, if he is fearful of his spouse’s reaction to it. At least, that’s what it took for President Obama to beat his smoking routine.

"I haven't had a cigarette in six years ... that's because I'm scared of my wife," Mr. Obama was overheard Monday telling a United Nations official.

That six years number might be a little fuzzy, points out USA Today. During a 2009 news conference, Obama indicated that he hadn’t quite given up his smokes.

“I’ve said before that as a former smoker I constantly struggle with it,” he said. “Have I fallen off the wagon sometimes. Yes. Am I a daily smoker, a constant smoker? No.”

Anyone who has ever loved a smoker knows that pushing that person to quit comes from a deep place of concern. So first lady Michelle Obama’s influence should be viewed as admirable, no? She cares. She wants him healthy, and she probably prefers her daughters not breathe in their father’s secondhand smoke.

Not to mention the fact that, ever image conscious, the first lady probably knows that the leader of the free world should not partake (at least publicly) of an unhealthy habit – perhaps, most especially, as he advocates for health-care reform.

(It might be worth noting peripherally that smokers were supposed to be penalized under the president's health-care law, a move that would have raised their premiums or even made them unaffordable, according to published reports. But a computer glitch in the system revealed this summer will limit the imposition of tobacco-use penalties for at least a year.)

But the coverage Tuesday of the president’s offhand remark also touches on a commonly explored thematic: That the first lady is a scold.

She wants Americans to eat more vegetables and her husband to pick up his socks.

News reports Tuesday emphasized the fear factor involved in Obama’s decision to quit. “No one is exempt from first lady Michelle Obama’s health initiatives – especially not her husband,” Politico wrote.   

About being scared of his wife, Time magazine asks: “With arms like the first lady’s, who can blame him?   

The web is dotted with photographs of Obama smoking throughout the years. As a young kid, with a dapper hat perched on his head, a bracelet on one wrist. Another of Obama as a young man, hair longer, wearing a leather jacket. And then there’s the suited Obama, smoking with what appears to be a foreign official.   

There’s no denying that, in whatever role she played, the first lady has done her husband a favor. In a 2012 iVillage interview, she suggests that first daughters Sasha and Malia were the real reasons behind Obama’s new-found commitment.   

"I know that his ability to ultimately kick the habit was because of the girls, because they're at the age now where you can't hide," Mrs. Obama said. "I think that he didn't want to look his girls in the eye and tell them that they shouldn't do something that he was still doing."

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