House Minority Leader John Boehner has two ties to the tobacco industry. He gets a lot of political support and money from it, and he smokes a lot of cigarettes. But putting the political aspect aside, Boehner made one thing clear Sunday: He's not ready to give up the habit.
In an unusual twist for one of the Sunday newsmaker shows, politics did in fact take a back seat to the personal, when Bob Schieffer, host of CBS' "Face the Nation," asked Boehner about his smoking and whether he, as a national leader, would give it up "set a good example for the country."
Boehner said it's a "bad habit" but he's not ready to give it up.
Schieffer admitted he was not an objective questioner on the subject, having developed bladder cancer seven years ago
(he is now cancer free). He blamed his heavy smoking for the cancer. A native Texan, Schieffer has said he began chewing tobacco at 16 because "I hung around rodeos and played baseball."
Boehner is a heavy smoker (The Hill
newspaper says his brand is Camel Ultra Lights), and perhaps one of the cruelest cuts he suffered at the hands of Speaker Nancy Pelsoi came in 2007 when she banned smoking
in the Speaker's Lobby, an area right off the House floor.
Schieffer asked how Boehner squared taking money from the tobacco lobby given the widely acknowledged health hazards posed by cigarettes and the 435,000 deaths a year attributed to it.
"Tobacco is a legal product in America," Boehner said. "The American people have a right to decide for themselves whether they want to partake or not. There are lots of things that we deal with and come in contact with every day, from alcohol to food to cigarettes, a lot of the things that aren't good for our health. But the American people ought to have the right to make those decisions on their own."
Schieffer countered: "They have a right to shoot themselves if they choose to, but I mean, shouldn't we do something to try to encourage them not to? I mean, do you think that's a good example?"
"Well listen, I wish I didn't have this bad habit -- and it is a bad habit -- you've had it, you've dealt with it, but it's something that I choose to do, and you know at some point, maybe I'll decide I've had enough of it," Boehner responded.
Schieffer proposed: "If you should become speaker, you could set a good example for the country by saying 'I'm going to stop smoking.' Maybe you could get the president, I understand he smokes too
, maybe the two of you could find a way to try to stop smoking. That'd be kind of a good thing, wouldn't it? "
Boehner said he appreciated the suggestion, and when he and Schieffer turned back to politics, Boehner said that, for the Republicans, "winning the House is still an uphill fight."