Obama Signs Sweeping Tobacco Legislation

President Obama signed Monday legislation enabling the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco with broad new powers over marketing. But his closet smoking has raised some eyebrows among health advocates and led to some uncomfortable moments for the president.

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Today in the White House Rose Garden, President Obama signed legislation designed to reduce smoking among young people, and the president once again acknowledged his history as a smoker.

As NPR's Don Gonyea reports, the president's efforts to quit appear to be hit and miss.

DON GONYEA: The president says this new law will save lives. It's officially called the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. It does not ban all tobacco products. Mr. Obama said it still allows adults to make their own choices.

President BARACK OBAMA: But it will also ban tobacco advertising within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds. It will curb the ability of tobacco companies to market products to our children by using appealing flavors.

GONYEA: The president had some statistics. He said one out of five American children are smokers by the time they leave high school and that 90 percent of all smokers started before their 18th birthday.

Pres. OBAMA: 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.

GONYEA: During last year's campaign, Mr. Obama very publicly tried to quit smoking and was often seen chewing nicotine gum. Today, his spokesman wouldn't say explicitly if the president still smokes, only that it's a daily struggle.

Dr. Saul Schiffman studies smoking at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. SAUL SCHIFFMAN (Psychology, University of Pittsburgh): He does illustrate how hard it is to quit. He's clearly a fellow with a lot of willpower and a lot of personal strength. So it shows that you need more than that.

GONYEA: Now, being president is surely a stressful job, and some say smoking reduces stress, but Schiffman says it has no such effect, adding though that stress does make it much harder to quit.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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