Barack Obama has tried several times to say goodbye to cigarettes.
Never, say the health pundits – and Obama’s wife, Michelle.
Even if his favorable October polls hold up and he defeats John McCain (a former smoker himself, who gave up cigarettes years ago) on Tuesday, Obama will be up against a more vexing foe: his smoking habit.
Obama started smoking cigarettes about 20 years ago and has smoked intermittently since, according to a brief medical summary by his doctor in June.
Obama’s tobacco habit is hardly news, though it comes as a surprise to many voters, because he does not smoke in public. During his 2004 Senate campaign, Obama’s wife told reporters he smokes about three Marlboros a day, and he has called his smoking “an ongoing battle. ”
Michelle Obama reportedly insisted at the beginning of her husband’s presidential campaign that he swear off smoking. No known recent photographs show him holding or puffing a cigarette.
“I’ve quit periodically over the last several years,” he told the Chicago Tribune last year. “I’ve got an ironclad demand from my wife that in the stresses of the campaign I don’t succumb. I’ve been chewing Nicorette strenuously. ”
Could the next president of the United States become a poster child for smoking cessation and the millions of Americans trying to quit?
Presidents Warren Harding, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lyndon Baines Johnson smoked in public. Two others, Howard Taft and Dwight Eisenhower quit before becoming president. Gerald Ford smoked a pipe. John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are among the recent presidents who carried on the White House tradition of cigar smoking. Ulysses S. Grant is said to have smoked 20 cigars a day.
Nearly 19 percent of adult Oregonians smoke, down from 24 percent a decade ago. What has stayed constant is the percentage of smokers who want to quit – three out of four.
“The vast majority of smokers want to quit, ” said social psychologist Jack Hollis, a senior investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. “Most have tried several times in the past year to quit.”
Typically, it takes five to seven “Quit attempts ” for a smoker to kick the tobacco habit, said Cathryn Cushing, a spokeswoman for the Tobacco Prevention Education Program in the state public health division.
Quitting “cold turkey,” without help, works for only 5 to 7 percent of smokers.
“We also know that help helps,” Cushing said. Getting reliable information, getting social support from family and friends or having a “Quit coach,” telephone counseling or face–to–face group meetings – or some combination – doubles the success rate. Getting both help and some form of medication – an antidepressant drug or nicotine–replacement therapy in the form of a nicotine patch or Nicorette gum – further improves the odds.
Some smokers also get a sudden, powerful dose of motivation in the form of bad medical news – such as a heart attack.
For most smokers trying to quit, the first week is a hellish time of physical withdrawal symptoms, including headache, anxiety and nausea.
But weeks or even months after the withdrawal symptoms wane, a quitter may remain vulnerable to relapse. Cravings for a cigarette can be brought on by all sorts of emotional “Triggers” – stress at home or on the job, a party, depression or a visit from an old “Smoking buddy. ”
Quitters are most vulnerable during what counselors call the HALT stage, when they are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.
“That’s when you have to reach out to your nonsmoking buddies and pull out all the stops to protect yourself from relapsing, ” Hollis said.
If Obama is able to cut down indefinitely to an occasional cigarette, he would be a rarity, Hollis said. Cutting back is a good strategy for smokers, as long as it’s a step toward complete quitting. But studies have shown that most so–called “chippers” find ways to become more “Efficient” smokers – more puffs per cigarette and deeper drags – that undercut their strategy and still leave them prone to the addictive craving.
One cigarette won’t hurt, such people tell themselves. But all too often, Hollis says, “It will hurt.”
Source: Oregon Live