Barack Obama has such a stoic, self-assured aura that it’s almost impossible to imagine him struggling with the kind of issues that plague most normal human beings. That said, he held the most stressful job in the world, so perhaps learning the former president had a hard time quitting smoking shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. In 2011, First Lady Michelle Obama revealed while chatting with the press that her husband had kicked the habit. However, as The Guardian noted at the time, the president himself didn’t comment.
“I constantly struggle with it,” Obama admitted during a news conference in 2009 (via Reuters). “Have I fallen off the wagon sometimes? Yes. Am I a daily smoker, a constant smoker? No.” He continued, “I don’t do it in front of my kids. I don’t do it in front of my family. I would say that I am 95 percent cured, but there are times where I mess up.”
Michelle reiterated that she’d never seen her husband smoking. However, in 2015, a well-circulated photo of the commander-in-chief reignited rumors he hadn’t kicked the habit (via The Guardian).
The release of his new memoir, A Promised Land, confirmed that Obama did, indeed, continue lighting up during his presidency, but he also confirmed what finally got him to stop.
The former president wanted to set a good example
As CNN notes, Obama writes openly in A Promised Land about how the pressures of the presidency ultimately led him to continue smoking. Sometimes he would get through half a pack of cigarettes a day while in the thick of it, typically finding a “discreet location to grab an evening smoke.” He says he finally quit for good by “ceaselessly” chewing nicotine gum after his daughter Malia “frowned” after “smelling a cigarette on my breath.”
In a 2017 interview with Politico, former Speaker of the House John Boehner suggested President Obama was constantly chomping on Nicorette because he was scared of disappointing Michelle.
Barack and Michelle Obama made Americans’ health their focus throughout his presidency, from his signing of the Affordable Care Act to the First Lady’s mission to fight childhood obesity via exercise and healthy eating. It’s entirely possible President Obama was concerned about seeming hypocritical in the eyes of the people he was serving by continuing to smoke. Ultimately, the former president opted to lead by example, kicking his bad habit for good in the hopes that others would follow his lead.
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