Monday, December 8, 2008

Obama says he won’t be smoking in office

President-elect Barack Obama. Photo/REUTERS 

WASHINGTON, Monday

US President-elect Barack Obama failed to give a straight answer when asked on a US talkshow yesterday whether he had managed to quit smoking.

In a country where cigarettes are responsible for one in five deaths and smoking costs tens of billions of dollars in health care, Mr Obama has been under pressure to set an example by giving up his reported two-decade-old habit.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” programme, interviewer Tom Brokaw told Mr Obama he had ducked answering the question during an interview last month with ABC’s Barbara Walters.

Noting that the White House was a no-smoking zone, Brokaw asked Mr Obama, “Have you stopped smoking?”

“I have,” Mr Obama replied, smiling broadly. “What I said was that there are times where I have fallen off the wagon.”

“Wait a minute,” Brokaw interjected, “that means you haven’t stopped.”

“Fair enough,” Mr Obama said. “What I would say is that I have done a terrific job under the circumstances of making myself much healthier. You will not see any violations of these rules in the White House.”

Mr Obama was often observed on the presidential campaign trail chewing Nicorette gum, which helps ease the craving for nicotine. He has tried several times to quit.

The 47-year-old president-elect, who takes office on January 20, works out daily at the gym and sometimes plays basketball. His doctor said in May he was in excellent health, often jogged three miles a day and was fit to serve as US president.

On Iran threat, Mr Obama said he was prepared to offer the country economic incentives to stop its nuclear programme, but he also warned that sanctions could be toughened if it refused.

“We are willing to talk to them directly and give them a clear choice and ultimately let them make a determination in terms of whether they want to do this the hard way or the easy way,” Mr Obama said.

Dealing with Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, which some Western countries say is being used to develop a nuclear bomb, will be one of the first foreign policy tests for Mr Obama after he takes office.

Iran last month signalled it was expanding its nuclear enrichment programme, a clear sign that it has no intention of bowing to Western pressure. Tehran says the programme is purely for peaceful purposes to generate more electricity.

Iran said last week it did not believe US policy would change under Mr Obama. Washington, which cut ties with Tehran after the 1979 revolution that ousted the US-backed Shah, has been pushing hard to isolate Iran over its nuclear programme.

“We need to ratchet up tough but direct diplomacy with Iran, making very clear to them that their development of nuclear weapons would be unacceptable, that their funding of terrorist organisations, their threats against Israel are contrary to everything we believe in,” Mr Obama said.

He said his administration would work with international partners to present a set of carrots and sticks to encourage Iran to halt its nuclear development programme. (Reuters)