Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Should Obama Quit Smoking?

Well, maybe he shouldn’t. Smoking may be the cause of his "magic voice." And being unable or deciding not to kick the habit is one way he can really distinguish himself from fashionable liberals.

Discussions - 34 Comments

A rather superficial take on Obama. Whether he keeps smoking or not signifies nothing.

TR, I agree that smoking signifies nothing...Peter

Unless smoking turns out to be why Obama can so seductively and disarmingly spout orthodox liberal platitudes...

Well, Peter, I suppose that depends on what he’s smoking.

Smoking may signify nothing, but "studies show" second-hand smoke kills.

As a conservative who supports smoking bans of almost all types simply on the annoyance-to-your-neighbor-factor (just as a oppose un-muffled hot rods and support "no shoes, no shirt, no service"), he better keep it in his own home. I certainly would not want to see the White House become an ashtray. Is he not old enough to know smoking is bad for you (as in, it kills)?? Before he tries to peddle the liberal orthodoxy on health care, he will have to explain why he supports a system that makes non-smokers (and thus significantly healthier class) bear the burden of paying for the predictable ills of a lifetime smoker...

above should read "just as I oppose un-muffled..."

Christopher,
As a smoking conservative who views smoking bans as another step toward the tyranny of the healthy, I ask which of your conservative principles supports "bans of almost all types simply on the annoyance-to-your-neighbor-factor?" What other things might we ban under such a principle? I find my neighbor’s kids annoying, people who chew with their mouth’s open annoying, people who wear bicycle helmets annoying, etc... I also would like to see evidence that "non-smokers (and thus significantly healthier class) bear the burden of paying for the predictable ills of a lifetime smoker..." As I see it the premature death of a smoker actually could save a considerable amount of government money.

Does anyone here know who the last president was who was a cigarette smoker? I know that FDR did; has there been anyone since then?

FL,

The principle is the principle of order, of laws, and a healthy respect for the mores and tradition of the people. It would be disorderly (not to mention dangerous) to drive on the left as opposed to the right. If my neighbor puts poison in my water, it is eminently "conservative" to seek a redress. If my neighbor plays his stereo late at night at unseemingly volume, it is eminently "conservative" to call the sheriff. Why do we require mufflers on cars? Why do we regulate language and sex on public airwaves? Why do we require people to where clothes in public? it is "conservative" to require all these things.

However, it is libertarian to argue otherwise, and to say that smoking bans have a ’1984’ character. On the contrary, they have a very local and small government character. Thus, the supposed "conservative" backlash against smoking bans is nothing but an adolescent libertarian cry fit.

This issue shows how fragile the conservative/libertarian coalition can be, and how much confusion there is out there in many peoples mind as to what a "conservative" and a "libertarian" is.

As to smoking, if you were able to erase smoking as a factor in disease, about 50% of all the people in every hospital right now would not be there (in US at least). Smoking is such a factor in cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. that it really would have that sort of impact. Dying does not cost much, but the last few years/months/days of caring, treating, and otherwise staving off death (which is what health care is) cost a fortune...

From Cigarettes are Sublime by Richard Klein, "Like other tyrants such as Louis XIV, Napoleon, and Hitler, James I despised smoking and demonized tobacco. The relation between tyranny and the repression of the right to grow, sell, use, or smoke tobacco can be seen most clearly in the way movements of liberation, revolutions both political and cultural, have always placed those rights at the center of their political demands. The history of the struggle against tyrants has been frequently inseparable from that of the struggle on behalf of the freedom to smoke."

I don’t smoke (allergies) but I have always liked people who do (even though they make my eyes water)--provided that in so doing they don’t NEED to do it. People who NEED to smoke or who NEED to drink strike me as slavish and undisciplined (not to mention stinky and drunk). But in today’s world, I find that someone who chooses to smoke occasionally has just enough rebellion within their soul to make them more interesting than your run-of-the-mill person. It’s a small thing, I know, and it doesn’t really prove anything--but it does intrigue. I think most people today would find it sufficiently interesting (because it is so rare) to not find it offensive. Of course, there are those folks who are born finger-waggers and they will purse their lips in disgust. But these folks lack imagination anyway and no one really listens to them. I think smoking only helps Obama--particularly as he distinguishes himself from the crowd as the only NON baby-boomer.

Just read FL’s post #10. I have to say it is one of the most ridiculous things I have read in a while. If the libertarians really want to make smoking and tobacco the ’canary in the coal mine’ and some sort ideological test, I say let them. The sooner the conservative movement dumps this sort of utopia the better. It has nothing to do with conservativism...

Despite your 50% figure, the actual public costs of smoking are offset by the taxes generated by both the individual smoker and the enormous tobacco industry. Your "annoyance" test also fails insofar as deliberately poisioning your water, driving without a muffler, fornicating in public, or keeping you up at night, are hardly the equivalent of smoking in public. Despite media hysteria there is essentially no scientific evidence that links second-hand smoke, or environmental smoke, to cancer or any other disease for that matter. Your only leg to stand on is then the "It smells bad" argument. On another score, the infringement of property rights of those who own establishements that once permitted smoking is a genuine concern. Its not a libertarian cry when due to the sensitivities of your nasal cavity I am not permitted to engage in an otherwise legally permitted activity. I would add that your desire to stamp out all actions that fall under the annoyance-to-your-neighbor-factor is much closer to utopia than allowing me to have a smoke with my beer. By the way since when is a smoking ban in keeping with "healthy respect for the mores and tradition of the people"?

"Despite your 50% figure, the actual public costs of smoking are offset by the taxes generated by both the individual smoker and the enormous tobacco industry."

I disagree. The individual would still be paying taxes whether he smoked or not. the tax benefit does nothing to reduce my health care costs, since I am not the recipient of Medicare / Medicade. Smoking increase my health care costs since I am in group health insurance like most folks.

"Despite media hysteria there is essentially no scientific evidence that links second-hand smoke, or environmental smoke, to cancer or any other disease for that matter. "

Sure, so poison to one person is nothing to another?!? Even if I grant that there is ’no scientific evidence’, which I don’t, it does not past the common sense test. I understand that little serious "scientific" work has been done in this area, so no doubt the future will prove "scientifically" what we all know - the stuff is poison, and kills.

"Your only leg to stand on is then the "It smells bad" argument. "

Even if this were true, it’s more than enough. Whether my neighbor makes allot of noise, or blows smoke and bad smells in my face, it is conservative to enforce basic decency in all sorts of civil little ways :)

"By the way since when is a smoking ban in keeping with "healthy respect for the mores and tradition of the people"? "

When more than 50% of your local community (or their representatives) votes to ban smoking in public places, coming soon to a place near you! :)

"By the way since when is a smoking ban in keeping with "healthy respect for the mores and tradition of the people"? " When more than 50% of your local community (or their representatives) votes to ban smoking in public places, coming soon to a place near you! :)

I have no desire to get in the middle of the smoking dispute, but this is what I’ve always feared about traditionalist conservatives--that their talk of "mores and traditions" ends up translating into the tyranny of the majority. That hardly sounds conservative to me.

John Moser:

I am fairly certain Eisenhower was a cig smoker while President. I am 100% certain LBJ smoked heavily until his 1st heartattack, and I think he may have started smoking again shortly after his recovery.

Well, I knew there was an issue here. Notice what our token woman, Julie, says: Smoking tends to make men interesting and intriguing. And smoking and his middle name are the two most intriguing things out Obama to me.

Well, I knew there was an issue here. Notice what our token woman, Julie, says: Smoking tends to make men interesting and intriguing. And smoking and his middle name are the two most intriguing things about Obama to me.

Peter: I may be a token but I couldn’t help but notice that I was more or less the only one here to stay on point. Your question was really about the effect of smoking on Obama’s political chances and my suggestion is that it can only help him. The other thing that helps him, in my view (and Michael Medved had a decent discussion of this today), is his age. He is not a baby-boomer. I think his smoking may be symptomatic or representative of that fact--or at least give that impression. Here is the picture I think Obama paints or could paint:

He rebels against the tide of soft-despotism represented by the likes of Hilary Clinton and her generation. They may not have noticed it, but they are getting old and stale. I think a large number of people around my age are a bit sick of the whole 60s generation--whether they are coming from the right or the left. Their politics does tend to be a constant re-living of the past--like watching bad old home movies and talking about their "glory days." And you know, that past was before we were born. We’re a little over it, sorry. It makes for bad T.V. and tiresome politics.

Obama can claim that he’s not a finger-wagger (hence the smoking). He’s "cool." He thinks for himself. He thinks there are worse things in life than a small vice and, unlike HC’s husband, he’s not hiding big vices by pretending they are small. Smoking humanizes him without tearing him down to the level of the common. Of course, none of this need actually be true. He’s probably just your run-of-the-mill liberal (maybe even very left-wing)--maybe he’s even a desperate nicotine fiend--but perception will matter more than reality, and he can paint that picture if he’s clever. I know that everyone thinks he’s peaking too soon and that the media love-fest will fade away when the big boys (or gals) step up. Maybe. I understand the argument and there is some merit to it. But I’m not passing judgment yet and I’m not even leaning in that direction. I think he could be the kid that the grown ups don’t take seriously until it is too late. I think it would be prudent for some smart guys on our side to size up his reality.

Oh, yeah. I forgot one other thing. Have you ever noticed (and this isn’t necessarily a good thing, I know) how many young people smoke? I don’t have statistics at my disposal and I don’t want to fish for them . . . but just look around you. I mean I’ll eat my hat if it isn’t making a comeback. Whenever I see someone smoking in a car it’s almost always a big fat car with an old guy in it or a little tiny car with a somewhat scary looking young person in it. Though my husband tends to notice pretty blond girls smoking alot too. Another sign of the coming rebellion against the baby boomers? Our parents pounded its evils into our heads, so how could we resist? I also think this: if HC gets the Democratic nomination, her numbers with young men will be especially bad (unless Bill gets in there with a very noticeable wink and nod) OR Obama pimps her out.

Julie, you’re living in another time period. Smoking is no longer "cool" or "manly." Sure in the 60’s-80’s there was a lot of that image, but now with proof of the hazards of 2nd hand smoke it’s just a dirty vice that puts everyone else in danger because of your personal/selfish weakness.

The only people it is cool for is the very young. High schoolers and uneducated 20 somethings (aka non-votersd). Even by college those addicted are on the fringes. And lastly most people who smoke do smoke because they need to.

I agree with Julie. As the tyrants on both the left and right continue to further regulate all aspects of our lives, I think it does make Obama a bit "cool" because he smokes.

Yes, I understand smoking kills. Yes, I understand it is addictive. Yet, I just can’t stop myself from admiring people who assert their freedom to engage in risky behavior (not wearing a seatbelt, no helmet, smoking, etc...)

I don’t know about Truman, but Eisenhower was a heavy smoker for half of his life. He quit cold turkey. Like Johnson, Eisenhower had to quit after health problems. GWB quit cold turkey (famously) by playing golf until the addiction was broken. The rule after, say, 1970s, seemed to be that you had to quit before taking office or keep it on the down low.

Yet, I just can’t stop myself from admiring people who assert their freedom to engage in risky behavior (not wearing a seatbelt, no helmet, smoking, etc...)

Yes, this was true...in the 80’s. There is now evidence that smoking hurts those who don’t smoke. Helmets, seatbelts etc. do not. If it’s cool to you that some people are addicted to a substance that hurts them and everyone around them, rest assured that you are in the extreme political minority.

Youth smoking is definitely on the way out... statistics show this and youth opinion (like Clint’s) seem to point toward the fact that it’s not so cool. However, I do think a segment of the youth demographic feels the way Julie does. As an occasional smoker I always got pretty angry when my mother "found" cigarette packets or receipts from corner stores in my car with evidence of this "bad habit." Most youth that smoke (even those uneducated ones, Clint... thanks for that) know the health risks and I believe there is a little bit of rebellion in going against all the "Truth" commercials that portray "hip people" standing up against smoking. If I were a more impressionable young person, I might identify with Obama -- smoking truly is a personal choice, so why villify those who choose it? They/we are the ones with the black lungs, not the hip "Truth" kids.

C’mon Clint. When it comes to the terms of "cool" very few people think in terms of health, certainly not in terms of collective community health. Smoking is taking a personal risk. Only in the case of children (if a parent smokes in the house) are people forced to endure the detrimental health effects of second-hand smoke. All other cases are directly or indirectly the result of choice. Smoking in public certainly is not as harmful as say, inhaling the exhaust released from cars as they pass by in the streets. Also, it being a legal activity, you can hardly call smoking a strictly selfish act unless you include those that demand others not smoke to also be strictly selfish (and if those are the terms we’re playing with, what does "selfish" even mean?).


In the form of political appearance, Obama the smoker will stick out from the group, and there is something attractive (I’d term it "genuine") about a person who distinguishes himself (by being human, accepting his human weaknesses, and acting as though health is not a virtuous end in and of itself in this life) in such a manner.


Also, your blanket assertion that it is not "cool" to smoke or that Julie is living in another age is off base. There are plenty of cool people that smoke, and smoking is part of their image. Proof is in a glance at a college campus or Hollywood. Hyberactive and hyperbolic media attention to the health ills of smoking (I always enjoyed Tom Green’s rendition of the "cool kids" of Truth ads) has not completely killed off its mystique.

I also second Prof. Moser’s statement. Too much Burke means too much tyranny (as does too little Burke).

Fred: First you never said smoking was "cool." At best you termed it as a "genuine" weakness. Fair enough, but one that most would as soon do without in public office. People do not, as you say, think of "cool" in terms of public health. However, public health indirectly has a very great influence on fashion, fad, and "cool." Elementary (unmanly, unreasonble etc) school-kids think that it is "cool" to litter. Later on in life it becomes taboo. Why? Because we have ingrained it in to people’s head that it is bad for society’s health. This assumed understanding makes us view littering/smoking/etc as uncool things to do.

I don’t concede at all that many cool people still smoke. A few Hollywood leftover in California? Are they the pulse of America now like Michael Moore dreams of? Unlike most people I’m around, I went to a red-blooded, red-neck, Bud Lite drinkin, public high school. Not one of those sissy blue-blood private acadamies in the suburbs. And I can tell you that even there it was not particularly cool to smoke. A small underclass did it, but often in both high school and college, I’ve found that people who smoke do so secretively in shamed discreet. It’s no longer the macho man puffing on the corner (1960); it’s the ashamed and addicted boy puffing one down behind a building (2007).

Andrew: Statistics show that more poor and lowly educated smoke. To me that indicates that the message hasn’t reached certain demographics. Not trying to be elitist here, I think it’s a question we should be trying to answer. It may be for other reasons than lack of knowledge, as you point out.

Julie’s got her finger on the anti-boomer feeling, which is really the anti-orthodox-liberal-boomer feeling. I know I’m feeling it a lot these days, not always to my credit. (But look at those Pew transcripts Joe links to. "Generation Next" is more liberal than my "Generation X.")

And come on, everybody, not observed from the day-in-day-out of an ashtray-emptying addiction, smoking is cool-looking/feeling, and more so now for the reasons Julie gives. And my uncle will probably die this year at an early age because of it. Nobody wants to die, let alone burden loved ones with an early death, but I wonder if he regrets his decision to smoke very much. He’s always projected a pretty cool and manly image.

Always good to go to No Left Turns and see the bloggers there - and commenters too - focusing on core, substantive issues. Thus, we get this bizarre attack on "fashionable liberals" from way out in right field.

Clint, I’m not sure we can come to a resolution here without giving a generic, non-exhaustive definition of "cool" I think of James Dean and Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger and George Clooney (that’s right...Clooney is cool); people that have a look, a style, a charisma, and, most importantly(?) an "I don’t give a $#*% what other people think..." attitude. Given the political correctness and focus of the media on non-smoking and highlighting the ills of smoking, a person who smokes in a position that depends on being at least somewhat aligned with the status quo has that needed attitude (look at Colin Ferrel smoking in drinking beer on the red carpet in a t-shirt).


You seem to think that "cool" can be forced into minds by way of collective strength of societal dos and donts. But an element of cool is precisely not that. Your analogy to children thinking littering is cool would only stand precisely because it is not what your supposed to do at the time.


But, of course, smoking would only be an indication or possibility of coolness. Smoking certainly doesn’t make someone cool, and addicts appear as slaves, which is definitely uncool.

Smoking is smoking. It is neither cool nor un-cool. You can be "cool" without smoking and you can be "cool" and also smoke. What people are really ready to rebel over is the notion that one would have to smoke to be "cool" or that one could not smoke and also be "cool". Screw that...The Leadville generation won’t stand for it. Cigarettes may be seen as cool because they can be used to help calm nerves...If you want to define cool you don’t have to provide glitzy examples...you just have to show that a person can keep his wits about him underfire...if that involves having a smoke or if having a smoke is not part of the equation then so be it. The Poker commercial with David Hachem with Ice Water in his veins is cool...that is what cool is about...being able to rationally overcome a very difficult situation...without wussing out/breaking down/freezing...or otherwise unravelling. That is also why it is manly to be cool. In any case I don’t think a cool person would be hyperventalating or freaking out because someone decided to have a smoke, or vice versa because someone declined an offer to smoke...Smoking to the cool person is really no big deal.. As Fred says in 26 "and there is something attractive (I’d term it "genuine") about a person who distinguishes himself (by being human, accepting his human weaknesses, and acting as though health is not a virtuous end in and of itself in this life) in such a manner." As Bart Simpson says "don’t have a cow".

So Julie is right in 20...There is just no reason to have a cow about smoking. And the fact that Obama smokes and is a liberal inclines one to believe that he isn’t going to make the issue a golden calf. In a weird way Isacc Couteill is also right...it isn’t substantial and that is cool.

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