[Viewpoint]From one smoker to another

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[Viewpoint]From one smoker to another


Dear Mr. Obama,

Happy New Year from Korea! Wellington and Canberra were the first cities to greet the year 2009, and the sun has now risen in Seoul and Tokyo. It will take about 15 hours for the day’s first light to reach Chicago.

What are your New Year’s resolutions? What did you promise yourself in the New Year? I guess quitting smoking might be on your list. I read in the New York Times that you are considering kicking the habit because you will soon move into the White House.

Quitting smoking is not an easy promise to keep. My wife and daughter ask me every year why I cannot quit when everyone else seems to have succeeded in doing so. But those who have never tried wouldn’t understand how hard it is. I make up my mind on New Year’s morning every year, but I have failed too many times to count.

Considering the pressure weighing on your shoulders, I can imagine how you would be tempted to light up. So your struggle is understandable. While the global standard is not to smoke and the White House bans smoking, it is only natural that you could be reluctant to try again. When you take over the Oval Office in 20 days, you will inherit the worst balance sheet in the 232 years of U.S. history. You are the first president to start with such terrible numbers.

The U.S. economy is a sinking ship. It is going down so fast that it will hit bottom at any moment. To keep it afloat, everyone is busy bailing, and you must be losing sleep thinking about the consequences. It won’t be easy to mend all the holes and scoop out enough water to save the ship. Understandably, you will want to smoke.

There are so many areas that are dysfunctional. America’s educational competitiveness is dropping. Once U.S. students boasted the world’s best math and science skills, but now, they are closer to the bottom. Unless science knowledge improves, there is no future for America.

The consumption structure that wastes so much energy needs to be fixed as well. But breaking an addiction to oil will be just as hard as quitting smoking.

And what about infrastructure? Roads, airports, ports and bridges are behind the world standard and outdated. One out of seven Americans does not have medical insurance and cannot afford to see a doctor even when sick. One out of six houses has fallen below the bank mortgage price.

But that’s not all. Unless the United States takes care of the conflicts it has started or gotten involved in, they will backfire like a boomerang. You need to reinvent America’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Israel-Palestine situation is on the brink of an all-out war. It will be an instant headache. If you don’t pay attention to North Korea, you never know when it will again launch missiles and test nuclear weapons.

However, Mr. Obama, the excessively high expectations for your time in office must be the most burdensome of all. You must feel very pressured when eight out of 10 Americans think you will be a great president. You must be losing sleep.

I heard you are chewing nicotine gum. I don’t think you will look presidential chewing gum in public. Why don’t you instead smoke with dignity? If the Oval Office is a non-smoking area, take a step outside to the garden and clear your head with a cigarette. If occasional smoking keeps you working better for the United States and the world, who will blame you?

On average, it takes eight to 10 attempts for a smoker to successfully quit. You don’t have to criticize yourself for a lack of determination just yet. If your efforts contribute to making the world a better place, you can quit later. Whenever I fail to quit, I console myself the with words of Chinese writer Lin Yutang. “I am willing to allow that smoking is a moral weakness, but on the other hand, we must beware of a man without weaknesses.” I wish you every success.


The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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