We got trouble. Right here in River City. With a capital “T” and that rhymes with small “t” and that stands for tobacco!
Last week was a big week for tobacco in our nation’s capital. First, the good news. President Obama signed landmark legislation from Congress that for the first time gives the Food and Drug Administration powers to regulate tobacco. This marks a new era in the Federal Government’s ability to deter smoking by mandating cigarette content, advertising and other issues. Now the bad news. When questioned at a press conference, Barack Obama admitted that he smokes cigarettes despite spirited efforts to quit.
The latter is awful news for several reasons.
First, the President apparently promised his wife he would quit smoking if she let him run for President. While far more momentous spousal vows have probably been broken by at least a billon or so married men, it would be nice if the President would honor his non-smoking pledge to his wife.
Second, it is estimated that every day 1,100 American kids take up smoking. If ever there were a President who is a role model for youth, it is Barack Obama. He’s the real thing. He played by the rules and overcame barriers including race, lack of inherited privilege, and even the vagaries of Chicago ward politics to become the Leader of the Free World. Like millions of today’s children, Obama was raised in a single parent household. His success should be an inspiration to every child. And now he is telling them, through his actions, that it is okay to be nicotine addicted. Barack’s dirty little habit compromises the anti-smoking campaigns that seek to keep teens from trying tobacco. Do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do simply doesn’t work with youth.
Next, smoking steals lifespan. It is estimated that tobacco use prematurely kills 443,000 Americans every year, costing our nation approximately $200 billion in lost productivity. For some diseases the data is overwhelming. For example, 90 percent of all men who get lung cancer are smokers or ex-smokers. Entering the White House at the relatively young age of 47 and, assuming re-election, Obama will be “term limited” out of office at the age of 55. He should have two or more decades ahead to continue public service. Recall that each of the two previous Democratic Administrations produced Nobel Prize winners: Jimmy Carter and Al Gore. If Obama stays healthy, he has a shot at making it three-for-three. Who knows? Perhaps he could serve as Secretary General of the United Nations. The last thing the world needs is to have its first black leader ever elected by a predominantly non-black country needlessly felled prematurely by Mr. Nicotine.
Finally, the Obama revelation is a blow to what is arguably one of America’s public health success stories. In 1955, 57 percent of American men smoked. Today, it is less than half that number, 24 percent. Among women, 18 percent smoke. Sure the numbers could and should be lower, but the decrease achieved to date is huge and millions of lives have been saved.
Apparently Obama smokes very little. Since the President is an avid basketball player, he must be in reasonably good shape — at least he is not a three-pack-a-day couch potato. Still, Obama in the role of “Smoker One” has got to stop. Maybe the “stimulus package” passed by Congress could fund a “shovel-ready” cessation program and move our beloved President into the ranks of the ex-smokers. His family needs it. Our nation’s children need it. The world needs it.