Barack Obama: Lighting up and chowing down on hot dogs - the President understands the political power of bad habits

The POTUS has revealed his past as a pot-user. These days, says David Usborne, Barack Obama has other vices

Citizens of any nation could be for forgiven for believing that as their leaders do, so reasonably might they. North Koreans are at liberty, therefore, to murder uncles and the French to juggle multiple mistresses so ineptly as to cause one to be hospitalised. Americans, meanwhile, can smoke both cigarettes and pot and publicly gorge on hot dogs.

This is the example set by Barack Obama, which might surprise you as he seems a clean-living sort of fellow. But yesterday a small ripple of surprise was running through this land after he suggested to the editor of the New Yorker, David Remnick, that smoking joints really isn't so bad and preferable to imbibing booze. He also went on to remind us that he himself had indulged in weed and tobacco. (Though not any more, we are led to understand.)

"As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol," he said in a lengthy interview. As for his daughters, he said he would tell them merely that ganja-smoking might be a "bad idea".

He was asked about marijuana, of course, because since the start of this year it has been legal for Coloradans to smoke it for fun as well as for medical reasons. Pot shops are popping up faster in Boulder than 7-Elevens. Washington on the west coast is due to follow suit within months and other states are thinking about it.

While recent opinion polls have shown a slight majority of Americans in favour of legalisation, those still wary, including parents of teens researching the price of Greyhound tickets to Denver, will surely be dismayed by the president's words. Couldn't he have said pot-smoking addles the senses, causes sofa-bound stasis and has bad side-effects such as spikes in consumption of crisps, popcorn and other munchable but unhealthy packaged foods?

Not really, because Obama's record on that front is shaky enough that a group of doctors a couple of years ago released a petition begging him to stop eating fatty, artery-congesting food and admonishing the White House for repeatedly releasing photographs showing him in the act. One such had Obama carefully biting down on a juicy frankfurter with David Cameron while at an Ohio basketball game. If there was ketchup too you couldn't see it.

Obama, with the PM's help, was in fact mimicking one of his Oval Office predecessors who perhaps also underestimated the example-setting powers of his office. "Widely publicised photographs of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt eating a hotdog are credited with pushing a generally unpopular product into national prominence," the doctors said. Americans now eat seven billion hotdogs each year in the months of summer alone.

Cannabis cultivation: the world's only college course

Actually, snaps of Obama reaching for waffles, frozen ices, pancakes and burgers are almost always in election campaign settings. There is no better place for politicians to find voters than in an IHop or Wendy's and no better place to project the message that they are just like everyone else. Wafting into a branch of Whole Foods to sample arugula varieties would by contrast open the candidate to charges of elitism and out-of-touchness.

Obama doesn't need to worry about being re-elected, which means he never needs to eat a double quarter-pounder with cheese ever again if he doesn't want to. And he swears he's over cigarettes, although giving them up was as hard for Obama as for any habitual smoker. In 2009, he admitted he had lit up on occasion during the previous year's election campaign but said he was "95 per cent cured".

Best we know, he hasn't touched a cigarette since he signed his health-care overhaul law in 2010. How he did this was revealed last year when he was caught on an open microphone speaking with a top UN official who also had been struggling to give up. "I chew Nicorette," he explained. But he had another secret weapon beyond nicotine gum – spousal disapproval. "I'm scared of my wife," he said.

Of course, he could still put his lungs where his mouth is and light up a spliff in the Lincoln Bedroom, though I'm guessing Michelle would have something to say about that.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments