A photograph of President Obama with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has whirred the long-dormant "Is Obama smoking?" conspiracy machine back to life. Posted to Instagram by Renzi's spokesman, it shows the two leaders standing on a balcony adjacent to an office, as one might if he didn't want to smoke indoors. And Obama's holding … something in his hands. Something roughly cigarette-pack-shaped, and he's picking at the top of it.
CNN's Chris Moody fielded theories, of which this was probably the most reasonable alternative to "a pack of cigarettes":
We are, none of us, without our bad habits. I'd like you to, for a moment, bring to mind the thing that you may do which you should not, the thing that relaxes you or calms you or which you enjoy. And now I say to you: Okay, you now have the hardest job in the world, which will require literally every minute of your time for the next four years and in which you hold the fate of much of the world in your hands, even as repeated crises threaten to undermine you. And then I add: Also, you have to stop doing that thing you love. Thanks.
It is easy for you to say, yeah, sure, I'd end my bad habit. I would offer that actually ending the bad habit would be far trickier.
Smoking is bad for you. We all know this. It has been linked to lung cancer and emphysema and you-name-it. We know, too, that Obama has quit or tried to quit since becoming president. It's a bad example to set, certainly; most adult smokers began before they were 21, and kids seeing Obama smoke isn't going to offer a disincentive to do so. Plus, the government Obama oversees has spent a ton of money trying to get people to quit, and therefore, among other things, to reduce eventual healthcare costs.
But for God's sake. Let the man smoke an occasional cigarette if he wants to. "One cigarette takes 11 minutes off your life," Obama's NIH would tell him. So smoke three and don't plan on watching a last episode of "Parks and Rec."
Maybe Obama smokes two packs a day, which, at his age, is not healthy. That seems very unlikely; given his reliance on Nicorette -- for which he has also been criticized -- it's fair to assume that his use of actual cigarettes is more sporadic. Even if he does, the guy has the best health care and the lousiest gig in the world. If he develops a preexisting condition as a result: good news!
If he's not smoking on camera, if he's not passing out Marlboros at the White House Halloween party, let him have an occasional cigarette. For those of you tempted to e-mail me a lengthy harangue about how irresponsible that attitude is, feel free. Please include your own personal bad habit and what your plan is to kick it.
Update: We updated the person behind the Instagram account.