Could a person who smokes openly get elected president?

In an interview with Jay Leno, House Speaker John Boehner says he’s not interested in being president if he has to give up cigarettes.

“Listen, I like to play golf,” Boehner said. “I like to cut my own grass. You know, I do drink red wine. I smoke cigarettes. And I’m not giving that up to be the President of the United States.”

It was primarily a laugh line with a fair amount of seriousness behind it. Despite the ongoing campaign to rid the earth of people who smoke, it’s not illegal and if a person is standing by himself in the Rose Garden, he’s not hurting anybody by hurting himself.

True, presidents are supposed to be role models. But young kids don’t pay much attention to politics, anyway, and it’s unlikely Boehner would pause during a State of the Union speech to take another drag, in the unlikely event he got himself elected president anyway. But presidents represent people who smoke, too.

We’re a nation that’s good at tsk-tsk’ing such things. Back in 1985, I covered a news conference at the Italian embassy in New York after the Achille Lauro hijacking. The Italians had just let the hijackers go, much to the dismay of the United States, since they had just killed a U.S. citizen by throwing him and his wheelchair overboard.

The prime minister sat down at a desk to answer reporter questions at the news conference, but not before he poured himself a glass of wine, which he sipped as he answered questions.

He couldn’t get elected president here, either.