THE BLOG

Obama: We Will Support You Whether You Can or Can't Kick Your Addiction

05/25/2011 12:00 pm ET
  • Tony Newman Director of Media Relations, Drug Policy Alliance

Presidential candidate Barack Obama is addicted to a harmful drug--cigarettes--and has promised his wife, Michelle, that he will quit. Mr. Obama has publicly promised to quit his cigarette habit for both health and public image reasons. I imagine that he, like all cigarette smokers, knows of the potential health problems caused by smoking and would like to give them up. He also knows that being a smoker could hurt him with some voters who think smoking "sends the wrong message" and who look down on a ritual shunned by more and more people every day.

I am also someone who is addicted to cigarettes. I have promised my wife numerous times that I will quit... for good. I quit cigarettes on birthdays, on my wedding day, Martin Luther King Day, and following the birth of my daughter. I sincerely hope Senator Obama is successful in his attempt to quit. But I also know Mr. Obama is human and, if he is like most cigarette addicts, he may end up relapsing and starting up again, perhaps more than once. I cannot imagine the stress, pressure and thrill of running for president but I can imagine how those emotions could trigger the urge to relax or process over a cigarette!

Making public or private promises to quit is a mixed bag. The public announcement and promise can be a helpful motivator when the urge to smoke arises. The flip side is having to apologize and feeling ashamed after starting up again. It is no fun having to explain to people how you came to start up again once they "catch" you smoking again.

One thing that Mr. Obama and I can be thankful for is that our addiction is legal! Relapse is a common experience whether your addition is cigarettes, alcohol or illegal drugs. Thankfully, we don't arrest cigarette smokers who relapse. While it seems crazy to lock up someone who relapses over cigarettes, it makes no more sense to lock up a cocaine addict who relapses.

Mr. Obama's honesty about his past and current drug use is admirable. He has admitted to using marijuana and cocaine as a youth. It has been refreshing to see him admit it and not run from it or make excuses. Like Mr. Obama, tens of millions of Americans have also tried marijuana and they seem to be rewarding his honesty by not holding his past drug use against him. Mr. Obama's struggle with cigarettes can also be an example for his fellow Americans whether he is able to quit cigarettes--and even if he is not.