Herman Cain does not endorse smoking, despite his campaign’s decision to prominently feature an aide smoking a cigarette in a recent Web video, the businessman and GOP presidential candidate said Sunday.
During an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” host Bob Schieffer — who survived a bout with bladder cancer that he attributes to smoking — said the ad “sends a signal that it’s cool to smoke,” a charge Cain denied.
“[Cain chief of staff] Mark Block smokes,” Cain said. “That’s all that ad says. We weren’t trying to say it’s cool to smoke. You have a lot of people in this country that smoke. But what I respect about Mark as a smoker, who is my chief of staff, he never smokes around me or smokes around anyone else. He goes outside.”
Cain explained that the video, which has received more than 1.2 million views on YouTube, was about letting “people be people.”
“One of the themes within this campaign is let Herman be Herman,” Cain said. “Mark Block is a smoker, and we say let Mark be Mark. That’s all we’re trying to say, because we believe let people be people.”
When Schieffer challenged Cain — who says he does not smoke — to take down the video, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO said that even if the campaign removed the video from its Web site, “it’s nearly impossible to erase that ad from the Internet.”
You can read the full exchange below.
SCHIEFFER: Mr. Cain, I just have to ask you, what is the point of that, having a man smoke a cigarette in a television commercial, for you?
CAIN: One of the themes within this campaign is let Herman be Herman. Mark Block is a smoker, and we say let Mark be Mark. That’s all we’re trying to say, because we believe let people be people. He doesn’t deny that he’s a smoker. This isn’t trying...
SCHIEFFER: Are you a smoker?
CAIN: No, I’m not a smoker. But I don’t have a problem if that’s his choice. So let Herman be Herman; let Mark be Mark. Let people be people. This wasn’t intended to send any subliminal signal whatsoever.
SCHIEFFER: But it does. It sends a signal that it’s cool to smoke.
CAIN: No, it does not. Mark Block smokes. That’s all that ad says. We weren’t trying to say it’s cool to smoke. You have a lot of people in this country that smoke. But what I respect about Mark as a smoker, who is my chief of staff, he never smokes around me or smokes around anyone else. He goes outside.
SCHIEFFER: Well, he smokes on television.
CAIN: Well, he smokes on television. But there was no other subliminal message.
SCHIEFFER: Was it meant to be funny?
CAIN: It was meant to be informative. If they listen to the message where he said America has never seen a candidate like Herman Cain, that was the main point of it. And the bit on the end, we didn’t know whether it was going to be funny to some people or whether they were going to ignore it or whatever the case may be.
SCHIEFFER: Well, let me just tell you, it’s not funny to me. I am a cancer survivor like you.
CAIN: Right, I am also.
SCHIEFFER: I had cancer that’s smoking-related.
SCHIEFFER: I don’t think it serves the country well -- and this is an editorial opinion here -- to be showing someone smoking a cigarette. And you’re the front-runner now. And it seems to me, as front-runner, you would have a responsibility not to take that kind of a tone in this campaign. I would suggest that perhaps, as the front- runner, you’d want to raise the level of the campaign.
CAIN: We will do that, Bob. And I do respect your objection to the ad. And probably about 30 percent of the feedback was very similar to yours. It was not intended to offend anyone. And being a cancer survivor myself, I am sensitive to that sort of thing.
SCHIEFFER: Would you take the ad down?
CAIN: Well, it’s on the Internet. We didn’t run it on TV.
SCHIEFFER: Why don’t you take it off the Internet?
CAIN: It’s impossible to do now. Once you put it on the Internet, it goes viral. We could take it off of our Web site, but there are other sites that have already picked it up. It’s nearly impossible to erase that ad from the Internet.
SCHIEFFER: Have you ever thought of just saying to young people, “Don’t smoke; 400,000 people in America die every year from smoking- related...”
CAIN: I will have no problem saying that. And as a matter of fact...
SCHIEFFER: Well, say it right now.
CAIN: Young people of America, all people, do not smoke. It is hazardous and it’s dangerous to your health. Don’t smoke. I’ve never smoked and I have encouraged people not to smoke.
SCHIEFFER: And it’s not a cool thing to do.
CAIN: It is not a cool thing to do. And that’s not what it was trying to say. Smoking is not a cool thing to do.
SCHIEFFER: All right.