U.S. presidents who smoked – FDR, Ike, LBJ

Clinton, Carter, Truman, and George Bush are the only smoke-free presidents in this century

Richard Nixon was an ex-smoker of cigarettes by the time he took office.
  • Richard Nixon was an ex-smoker of cigarettes by the time he took office.
  • Image by Rick Geary

Dear Matthew Alice: Other than an occasional victory cigar, we've never seen pictures of our U.S. presidents with a cigarette in their hand. Were there any modern-day presidents that actively inhaled while in office? — Cardiff Ken, Cardiff

The list of presidential puffers is surprisingly long. One of the most famous pictures of Franklin Roosevelt shows him smiling broadly and clutching a cigarette holder (with glowing cig) between his teeth. When the Trumans moved into the White House, Bess probably had to dry-clean the drapes and slipcovers. Harry was a nonsmoker, unusual for that era. According to the Truman Library in Missouri, Harry once received a letter from a man who collected cigarette butts from famous people. The president wrote back saying he was sorry he couldn’t oblige; he had tried smoking once when he was a kid, out behind the bam in Independence, but his dad caught him and whupped him good, and he never tried it again.

According to the Tobacco Institute, the mouthpiece for the tobacco industry, Dwight Eisenhower smoked cigarettes, as did Lyndon Johnson, the last active, daily cigarette smoker to fog up the Oval Office. They also say Richard Nixon was an ex-smoker of cigarettes by the time he took office. The Museum of Tobacco Art and History in Nashville contends Nixon is still a champion cigar smoker. JFK was also an ex-smoker who switched to a pipe and cigars, though, says the Tobacco Institute, wife Jackie was and is still a chain smoker. You’ll probably not find photographic evidence, since she requested that the White House camera corps not snap pics of the First Lady sucking on a butt.

Gerald Ford was known to smoke a pipe occasionally. And many candid pics of Ronald Reagan from the ’40s show him with a pipe in his hand, though it never appeared to be filled with tobacco, so maybe it was just a prop he carried around to give him an air of distinction. He also smoked cigarettes in a couple of his movies. Reagan’s best-known connection to the tobacco industry is the series of endorsement magazine ads from the ’50s showing him toking away on a Chesterfield. I seem to recall news accounts that Ronnie acquired his big jellybean habit when he quit smoking. At any rate, he wasn’t a puffer by the time he tottered into the White House.

If Nixon is remembered for “I am not a crook,” and Kennedy is remembered for “Ich bin ein Berliner, ’’ then Bill Clinton’s legacy has to be “I did not inhale." That apparently applies to tobacco as well as weed. And Jimmy Carter may have lusted in his heart, but not for Marlboros. Clinton, Carter, Truman, and George Bush are the only smoke-free presidents in this century.

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