- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2009

MOSCOW | The hosts had a message for President Obama - we’ve got ‘em, so smoke ‘em while you’re here. But America’s most famous wannabe ex-smoker was having none of it, and instead encouraged Russians to quit for health’s sake.

Russia is a smoker’s delight - ashtrays in hotel elevators, cheap cigarettes readily available. The Tuesday edition of the Moscow Times, an English-language paper, urged the American president to use his time here to re-embrace the habit he’s trying to kick.

The paper even gave him the Russian translation for bumming a cigarette: “Mozhno strelnut u vas sigaretu?”

“You are among friends, smoking friends, so enjoy yourself,” the paper wrote, pointing to the inexpensive price per pack - the equivalent of $1.25 - as proof that someone would gladly hand over a cigarette.

There were no reports of Mr. Obama lighting up, and the White House says the president doesn’t smoke in front of his wife and children, who accompanied him on this trip.

Mr. Obama said he offered advice to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on reducing the smoking rate in Russia.

“We talked about the fact that government programs can be initiated, but to the extent that there’s been success in the United States around reducing smoking levels, it’s not only a matter of changing laws - it’s also been changing attitudes, so that people feel that they need to change,” Mr. Obama told a gathering of civil society activists Tuesday afternoon.

At the White House last month, Mr. Obama resorted to legal muscle rather than attitude change. He signed a bill to bring cigarettes under tighter government control, require more prominent health warnings and force companies to halt cigarette marketing campaigns that the government says are aimed at getting children hooked.

During the signing ceremony, Mr. Obama talked about his own struggle with nicotine addiction, which began in his youth.

Russian lawmakers have contemplated a nationwide ban on smoking in public, but it’s a tough sell. Reporters walking out of the Kremlin after Monday’s news conference between the Russian and American presidents remarked on the strong smell of cigarettes detectable well inside the building.

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