With the signing of some of the strongest anti-tobacco legislation ever this week, the media has taken a keen interest some say too keen an interest in President Obama’s own history with cigarettes. In fact, this is not a new development; the media has almost had an obsession with what seems like the Achilles’ heel of a supremely self-assured and self-controlled man. Of course, Obama’s vague and ever-changing answers a direct result of his difficulty kicking the habit only served to pique the media’s interest. Here’s a look back at what he’s said about his addiction through the years.
December 24, 2005: In an article by the Chicago Tribune’s Jeff Zeleny, Obama discussed his struggles with cigarettes. “The flesh is weak. It’s an ongoing battle. I have my gum, my patches and all that stuff.”
November 18, 2006: In an interview with the AP, Obama revealed, “I’m struggling with [cigarettes]. I’ve quit before. It’s one of those habits that creep up when you’re stressed and you have to shake it off. It’s not something I’m proud of.”
February 6, 2007: Speaking to the Chicago Tribune, Obama said, “I’ve never been a heavy smoker. I’ve quit periodically over the last several years. I’ve got an ironclad demand from my wife that in the stresses of the campaign I don’t succumb. I’ve been chewing Nicorette strenuously.”
February 11, 2007: Michelle Obama, on 60 Minutes, said of Obama’s smoking habit, “I hate it. That’s why he doesn’t do it anymore. I’m proud to say. I outed him — I’m the one who outed him on the smoking. That was one of my prerequisites for, you know, entering this race, is that, you know, he couldn’t be a smoking president.”
June 12, 2007: When asked by some guy at a gas station in Los Angeles whether he still smoked, Obama told him, “I do not.” He then gave the man two pieces of Nicorette gum.
August 2007: After ABC News’ Jake Tapper claimed he smelled smoke on Obama, Obama’s campaign claimed that “he hadn’t had a cigarette since he quit” in February.
February 28, 2008: When asked by Ellen DeGeneres if he’d been able to stop smoking despite the pressure and stress, Obama replied, “I have been able to do it. I’ve been chewing on this Nicorette, which tastes like you’re chewing on ground pepper — but it does help. And, this was a dealbreaker for Michelle.”
April 2, 2008: Appearing on Hardball With Chris Matthews in front of an audience of West Chester University students, Obama said, “I fell off the wagon a couple times during the course of [the campaign], and then was able to get back on. But it is a struggle like everything else. And I think that it is important to just keep in mind, I have a nine-year-old daughter and a six-year-old daughter. And I want to give them away in their weddings and I want to see my grand kids.”
May 28, 2008: Obama’s personal physician issued a letter that stated, “He has quit [smoking] on several occasions and is currently using Nicorette gum with success.”
June 10, 2008: During a press conference in St. Louis, Obama claimed it’s been “months” since he had “fallen off the wagon.”
October 2008: In an interview with Men’s Health magazine, Obama admitted, “There have been a couple of times during the campaign when I fell off the wagon and bummed one, and I had to kick it again. But I figure, seeing as I’m running for president, I need to cut myself a little slack.”
December 7, 2008: Speaking with Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press, Obama said, “There are times where I’ve fallen off the wagon. I’ve done a terrific job, under the circumstances, of making myself much healthier. And I think that you will not see any violations of these rules in the White House.”
February 2, 2009: When asked by Anderson Cooper whether he had smoked since entering the White House, Obama answered, “I haven’t had one on these grounds. And I, you know, sometimes it’s hard but I’m sticking to it.” (Cooper noted the obvious caveat and then moved on.)
May 14, 2009: On NPR’s Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!, David Axelrod was asked whether Obama had begun smoking again. “The president and I are close, but we don’t get that close,” he replied.
June 12, 2009: Asked by reporters whether Obama was still smoking, Robert Gibbs said, “I would simply tell you I think struggling with a nicotine addiction is something that happens every day.”
June 22, 2009: On the day that Obama signed in tough anti-tobacco legislation, Gibbs was repeatedly asked about Obama’s smoking habits. “I don’t, honestly, see the need to get a whole lot more specific than the fact that it’s a continuing struggle,” Gibbs said. “He struggles with it every day.”
June 23, 2009: In a press conference the next day, Obama admitted that he was “95 percent cured” and never smoked in front of his kids. “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.”