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Obama, recovering smoker, praises regulation of tobacco

June 12, 2009 | 10:46 am

Smokes Reformed smokers like to say that the hardest thing they ever did was to break their nicotine habit. That may not apply to President Obama, a one-time puffer who today said he would sign legislation to regulate tobacco.

“This bill has obviously been a long time coming,” the president said in the Rose Garden.

“We've known for years, even decades, about the harmful, addictive, and often deadly effects of tobacco products.  Each year Americans pay nearly $100 billion in added healthcare costs due to smoking.

Each day about a thousand young people under the age of 18 become regular smokers.”

During the campaign, Obama had the usual love-hate relationship with Sot-Weed (the American Colonial term for the killer leaf). He was seen chomping on Nicorette gum to ease the withdrawal cravings and often said he would stop smoking to set a better example.  

When Obama appeared on NBC’s "Meet the Press" program in December, interviewer Tom Brokaw noted that the White House was a no-smoking zone.

"Have you stopped smoking," Brokaw asked.

"I have," Obama said. "What I said was that there are times where I have fallen off the wagon."

"Wait a minute," Brokaw interjected, "that means you haven’t stopped."

"Fair enough," Obama said. "What I would say is that I have done a terrific job under the circumstances of making myself much healthier. You will not see any violations of these rules in the White House."

The White House had no immediate comment today on Obama’s smoking. For those keeping track, the no-smoking rule was imposed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton back when she was first lady. 

In his televised comments, Obama stressed the bipartisan support for the anti-tobacco bill, which allows the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the making and marketing of tobacco products.

For the president, the political cooperation was important, especially as Congress heads into the healthcare reform debate, which is expected to be far more contentious than approving a bill dealing with tobacco – which was declared a health hazard four decades ago.

“Leaders of both parties have fought to prevent tobacco companies from marketing their products to children, and provide the public with the information they need to understand what a dangerous habit this is,” Obama said.  “And after a decade of opposition, all of us are finally about to achieve the victory with this bill, a bill that truly defines change in Washington.” 

-- Michael Muskal

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Cigarette packs are on display for sale in a shop April 1, 2009 in New York City. Today the federal tax on packs of cigarettes climbed from 39 cents to $1.01, the largest tobacco tax increase ever and affecting all tobacco products. (Photo by Mario Tama / Getty Images)

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