President Barack Obama knows first-hand how difficult it is to quit smoking. At a campaign stop in February 2008, he told his audience that he had quit smoking - again. The announcement was premature. Not long afterwards, he publicly admitted that he still smoked occasionally. The smoking habit, as millions know, is hard to break. Now, it seems, the president has stopped smoking. Michelle, his wife, assures us that is the case.
Mrs. Obama said Tuesday that the president had not smoked in nearly a year, but offered little additional information on how and when he kicked the habit. The White House press office provided no additional information, adhering to its policy of trying to keep the president's smoking habit out of the news. This time, though, an announcement would have been a public service. Reports of the president's success likely would encourage some smokers to follow his lead.
If, indeed, the president has kicked the nicotine habit, he's done something that millions of others would like to do. Public health officials say about 75 percent of smokers who try to stop resume smoking within six months. Of those who do quit, many have tried to stop four, five, six or more times before succeeding. Some try repeatedly but never are able to wean themselves from an addiction to nicotine.
The president had significant motivation to stop smoking. He promised his wife that he'd stop if she agreed that he should seek the presidency. He wanted to be able to tell his daughters, ages 12 and 9, that he does not smoke if they asked. He knew, too, that his health was at risk if he continued to smoke, and that stopping was the right thing to do.
Though details are sketchy, some facts about the president's effort to stop smoking are known. "I've been chewing Nicorette [nicotine gum] strenuously," he said in 2007. Last year, the White House physician reported that the president was in robust health, except for smoking. The doctor suggested then that Obama continue his "smoking cessation efforts" - a reference to his continued use of the gum. The president, it seems, listed to his physician.
The president's successful effort to stop smoking is a personal triumph as well as a public one. He'll likely be healthier because he stopped smoking, and he can take pride in kicking a habit that had plagued him, as he admits, all his adult life. Perhaps, too, the fact that the president stopped smoking will re-energize anti-smoking campaigns across the nation.
Smoking rates in the United States dropped almost continuously from 1964, when a surgeon general's report first said that tobacco was a killer, to the turn of the 21st century. Since then, there's been little progress in reducing smoking rates. The president's successful effort is a reminder of how hard it can be to break the tobacco habit. It is also a reminder that doing so is beneficial to both the individual and to a nation that must pay the costs associated with smoking.