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Obama Smoking Assertions Fail Fact Checks

June 24, 2009   John R. Polito

The President's response yesterday to a question about his smoking and failure to quit reflects either extreme dependency ignornace or a deep state of denial. A role model to children around the world, what lessons is he teaching them?

by John R. Polito

Obama Anti-Tobacco Man - click for a high resolution poster image "The President smokes, so why shouldn't I give it a try?" The idol of millions of teens, arguably no smoker does more to unintentionally promote smoking and nicotine addiction among America's youth than President Barak Obama.

While the President displayed a surgeon's precision in excising concerns about his support for Iranian protesters at yesterday's White House press conference, his slaughter of a question about his continued smoking suggests little understanding of his own chemical dependency.

Press Conference Question - "As a former smoker, I understand the frustration and the fear that comes with quitting. But with the new law that you signed yesterday regulating the tobacco industry, I'd like to ask you a few questions. How many cigarettes a day do you now smoke? Do you smoke alone or in the presence of other people? And do you believe the new law should help you to quit? If so, why?"

President Obama: Well, the -- first of all, the new law that was put in place is not about me. It's about the next generation of kids coming up. So I think it's fair, Margaret, to just say that you just think it's neat to ask me about my smoking as opposed to it being relevant to my new law.

Fact Check: Although the legislation signed by the President on June 22 was entitled the "Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act," it is false to suggest that the law is only about youth smoking prevention. The Act itself expressly gives equal weight to the issue of "dependence on tobacco." Other key objectives are "to promote cessation to reduce disease risk and the social costs associated with tobacco-related diseases" and promotion of "less harmful tobacco products."

President Obama: But that's fine. I understand. It's an interesting human -- it's an interesting human interest story.

Fact Check: A "human interest story" or an American health pandemic and the leading threat to the life of the President of the United States of America? The Act itself declares that "Congress found" that "nicotine is an addictive drug," that "tobacco use is the foremost preventable cause of premature death in America," and that it "causes over 400,000 deaths in the United States each year, and approximately 8,600,000 Americans have chronic illnesses related to smoking."

Congress also found that "tobacco dependence is a chronic disease, one that typically requires repeated interventions to achieve long-term or permanent abstinence," that "because the only known safe alternative to smoking is cessation, interventions should target all smokers to help them quit completely."

President Obama: Look, I've said before that as a former smoker I constantly struggle with it. Have I fallen off the wagon sometimes? Yes. The -- am I a daily smoker, a constant smoker? No. ... And, you know, I would say that I am 95 percent cured.

Fact Check: According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse "there is no cure for drug addiction," including addiction to nicotine. Although chemical addictions can be arrested through "behavior change or modification that slowly retrains the brain," just one powerful hit of nicotine and up to 50% of the brain's a4b2-type acetylcholine receptors become occupied by nicotine, creating a dopamine "aaah" explosion that soon has the brain begging for more.

As Joel Spitzer teaches (possibly America's leading nicotine cessation educator), the true measure of nicotine's power isn't in how hard it is to quit but how easy it is to relapse.

As for the President's 95% cure assertion, he openly admits to using Nicorette nicotine gum for far longer than authorized by FDA use guidelines. The statement evidences amazingly little understanding of nicotine dependency. Likely "hooked on the cure" since announcing quitting in February 2007, the health consequences of duel use of both smoked and replacement nicotine are not yet known.

Nicotine is a super toxin that is gradually eating away the President's brain grey matter. It is 166 times more lethal than caffeine (LD50 = 60mg vs. 10grams). Drop for drop it is more deadly than strychnine (75mg), diamond back rattlesnake venom (100mg), arsenic (200mg) or cyanide (500mg) and has no business inside the brain. Recent studies implicate nicotine as playing key roles in tumor promotion and growth, inhibiting apoptosis and chemotherapy effectiveness, vascular lesions, generation of oxygen free radicals, and damage to serotonin, dopamine and auditory and visual attention pathways.

It's understandability uncomfortable for the most powerful man on earth to candidly admit he feels powerless to control insula driven cravings, urges and anxieties for more nicotine. It isn't that the President likes what happens when he smokes or chews nicotine but that he doesn't like what happens when he doesn't - the onset of withdrawal.

He appears to continue to rely upon the rationalization that his job is far too stressful to add to it the up to three days needed to move beyond peak withdrawal. But if he continues to suggest that he is unable to quit, what message does that send to more than 40 million enslaved Americans, many with highly stressful work environments themselves?

President Obama: No. I don't do it in front of my kids. I don't do it in front of my family.

Fact Check: It's comforting to hear the President say that he doesn't subject his children to the health consequences of secondhand smoke or unintentionally assault them with daily visual role model smoking invitations, as they yearn to someday "be like daddy." But it's hard to imagine that he has somehow fully insulated them from the fact that their father both smokes and chews nicotine. They have friends, hear news, hug dad while having keen senses of smell, and have beautiful eyes capable of seeing gum being chewed or smoked nicotine's instruments of delivery.

More disturbing are his implied messages to youth that, "yesterday I signed a smoking bill that applies to you but not me," that "others need to quit but not me," that "you can smoke a little and remain 95% safe from addiction," that those who have transfered their chemical dependency to long-term chronic use of fruit flavored nicotine gum are already "cured," "that nicotine is a performance enhancing drug and you should try it out!"

President Obama: There are times where I mess up... like folks who go to A.A.

Fact Check: Folks who go to A.A. don't do so while under the influence of replacement alcohol. The industry openly admits that roughly 40% buying nicotine gum are now chronic long-term users. With due respect, where the President is "messed up" is in buying into pharmaceutical industry marketing that has redefined a natural insecticide as medicine (BlackLeaf 40), labeled its use "therapy," and that falsely assert that using it doubles your chances of quitting.

Obama, like millions of smokers, has been hoodwinked and bamboozled. Three decades of "evidence-based" cessation treatment findings have been driven by profits and serious financial conflicts of interest, not science. While replacement nicotine nearly always prevails in placebo controlled trials, it falls flat on its face in head-to-head real-world competition with cold turkey quitters. Why?

It's really rather simple. It's impossible to blind nicotine addicts with quitting histories as to the presence or absence of full-blown withdrawal. Drug addiction is the only known study area where use of placebo controls is a licence to steal. Such trials measure defeated expectations, not efficacy. Give an addict a free, three-month supply of their drug and they'll stick around and attend weekly counseling sessions. Assign them to receive placebos and they're gone.

President's Comments at June 22 Act Signing: And almost 90 percent of all smokers began at or before their 18th birthday. I know -- I was one of these teenagers, and so I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it's been with you for a long time ... And today, despite decades of lobbying and advertising by the tobacco industry, we've passed a law to help protect the next generation of Americans from growing up with a deadly habit that so many of our generation have lived with.

Fact Check: Here the President again candy coats chemical dependency by refusing to mention the word "addiction" and twice referring to smoking as a "habit." What message did he send youth? Stop and think, what is a teenager's understanding of the word "habit:" using too many cuss words, not using turn signals, cracking your knuckles, getting angry too often? Has any teen in history ever experienced 3 days of full-blown withdrawal anxieties upon ending use of foul language or beginning to use turn signals?

What "habit" causes the brain to grow or activate (up-regulate) millions of extra a4b2-type acetylcholine receptors in at least eleven different regions? What "habit" is so gripping that it enslaves up to 90% of persons who engage in it at least once daily? What "habit" is so deadly that it kills roughly half of adults who develop it?

What message do millions of youth take home upon combining their understanding of a "habit" with the fact that the man they most admire refuses to end his? It isn't that the President can't quit. It's that he knows he's intelligent and refuses to accept that he can't figure this out on his own. He hasn't yet realized that cessation counselors like Joel Spitzer of Chicago have devoted their entire life, full-time, to helping folks break free. Maybe some day he'll awaken to how little he really knows about his dependency and give Joel a call.

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Written 06/24/09.
Reformatted 08/16/2018 by John R. Polito