The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The grind: Presidents should lead by example

Does it really matter that President Barack Obama still smokes? An obvious answer would probably be no. But, if elected officials are supposed to lead by example, which they should, then the answer is yes.

The Washington Post, among others, reported over the weekend that Obama remains in good health but still struggles with smoking. It’s essentially old news. While on the campaign trail, Obama admitted that he was 95 percent cured, but still occasionally smoked.

However, last summer, Obama signed historic legislation that put limits on cigarettes that are dubbed “light” or “mild,” and flavored cigarettes and flashy packaging were to be a thing of the past. I remember thinking that it’s ironic for Obama to implement this strict legislation when he still smokes.

Few could argue that the occasional cigarette impedes Obama’s ability to lead the country, but the headlines keep smoldering about his tobacco use. It’s these types of stories that distract people from important issues at hand like passing health care reform, responding to a disaster in Chile, among others.

But at the same time, isn’t the president’s health and wellness the business of the American people? Being president means you waive many rights to privacy. The White House keeps a log of visitors and the president’s agenda is open to the public, too. Presidential appointments always make headlines, no matter how benign.

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In the popular 1990s TV show “The West Wing,” Martin Sheen’s character, Josiah Bartlett, was often seen sneaking outside the oval office or “the situation room” for a quick, stress-relieving smoke. He remained cool and composed; no one questioned his ability to lead based on a few cigarettes. But that was more than 10 years ago, and the country’s perception of smoking has changed with the times.

People smoke. It’s a fact, but it is becoming less common (according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 43.4 million Americans are considered smokers). As smoking rates decrease, those left puffing are vilified as being trashy or dirty. But many people forget it’s often service workers who still smoke: waiters and waitresses, maids, the list goes on. . I forget who said it so succinctly, but ‘work is what those people do for others; smoking is what they do for themselves.’

On campus this fall, Student Senate introduced a resolution that would ban smoking on school grounds. The issue was divisive and raised concerns with many smokers on campus. It may not be pleasant to be around, but I don’t believe it’s the government’s responsibility to tell people they cannot smoke outdoors.

It’s a lot of pressure to put on the president, to set an absolute moral example. But I think we often forget that Obama is a human being and not the messiah many believed him to be during the campaign. Let’s be honest here: what sane person with Obama’s job wouldn’t smoke?

Ultimately, the country will survive Obama’s casual smoking habit. If nothing else, it’s an interesting facet of a fascinating political figure. He’s young, ambitious, innovative and I don’t really mind that he needs the occasional smoke break to get his job done.

It does become bothersome, though and slightly hypocritical, when the president goes after tobacco companies and restricts others from smoking when he can’t put down the pack himself.

The Grind is a weekly column. Taintor, The Spectator’s editorial editor, can be reached at
[email protected].

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The grind: Presidents should lead by example