By Nia-Malika Henderson Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2010; 2:47 PM
Apparently dealing with the worst financial crisis in decades, two wars, declining popularity and a shellacking at the polls has done wonders for President Obama's smoking habit - he hasn't touched a cigarette in nine months, according to the White House.
"I've not seen or witnessed evidence of any smoking in probably nine months," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. "I think he has worked extremely hard. And I think he would tell you, even when, in the midst of a tax agreement and a START deal and all the other things that accumulate, that even where he might have once found some comfort in that . . . he's pushed it away. So he understands . . . its dangers and I think has done a lot of extraordinary work to wrestle with that habit, as millions of Americans have."
That Obama, who exercises six days a week and has offered not-too-fit staffers salads and suggestions to see a trainer, has a smoking habit has always been something of head-scratcher. But the habit goes back 30 years.
Gibbs pronounced him 95 percent cured last year.
The president's smoking has remained the only chink in what appears to be a super-fit armor, although at his last checkup in February, Obama's doctors said he had an elevated cholesterol level but was in "excellent health." The White House blamed the spike on easy access to pie, and noted that the president "loves the pastry chef." When he's away from the White House, he's been known to get cheeseburgers to go, with an order of "don't tell Michelle" on the side.
The first lady, of course, has become something of a cover girl for healthy eating and fitness and struck a deal with her husband early on: If he ran for the White House, he had to quit smoking. She didn't want him to be a president who smoked.
But in a March interview, shortly after her husband's annual checkup, the first lady gave her husband something of a pass.
"What the president struggles with is what every smoker struggles with, it's a difficult habit to break. It's understandable that he struggles with it. Do I want him to stop completely? Absolutely. And I will push him to do so, but it's a process," she said.
"I've never been a smoker so I can't relate, but people who've smoked say like anything, you have dips and valleys, and to try to quit smoking in one of the most stressful times of the nation's history is sort of like, you know, okay, he's going to struggle a little bit. This may be the year he'll struggle," she said.
News of the president's nine-month no-smoking stretch comes as Surgeon General Regina Benjamin released a sobering 700-page report outlining the damage cigarettes have on the body. The White House said Obama probably will get his annual checkup in the next few months, although nothing has been scheduled.
Gibbs said that not only has Obama kicked the habit - through stubbornness and chewing gum - but his golfing (and presumably smoking) buddy Marvin Nicholson also has quit.
But have the 80- to 90-hour workweeks, the nonexistent weekends and the hectic pace of the White House had the reverse effect, leading anyone to actually start smoking?
"I don't know of anybody that has started smoking," Gibbs said.