Obama smoking funny-looking cigarette in college photo

Time Magazine has some photos of their man of the year, Presidential Elect Barack Obama, as a Freshman at Occidental college. The pictures were taken in 1980 by then-aspiring photographer Lisa Jack who recently dug the negatives out from her basement. She put her negatives of Obama, a whole roll of film, in a safety deposit box until after the election so the photos couldn’t be used against him in any way. One photo of Obama smoking looks like he could be smoking pot given the way he’s holding the cigarette. MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked Time editor Rick Stengel “what’s he smoking?

Obama admitted to past marijuana and brief cocaine use in his first memoir, Dreams from My Father. The future President has said that it’s not a secret that he’s done stupid things. “I think that, at this stage, my life is an open book, literally and figuratively. Voters can make a judgment as to whether dumb things that I did when I was a teenager are relevant to the work that I’ve done since that time.” It helped Obama in the election that revelations about his youthful indiscretions were pretty old news by the time he was running for the highest office.

Other photos from the same series make it obvious that Obama was just smoking a cigarette, a bad habit he hasn’t entirely left behind. The photographer also said that he brought a pack of smokes with him to meet her for the session. He said early last year that he’d “quit [smoking] periodically,” has “never been a heavy smoker,” and that he’s been using Nicorette to help, but he’s never declared himself smoke free. In my mind his occasional smoking is worse than whatever he did in college because he’s presumably doing it now. It’s a negative image for the millions who look to the President to serve as an example. There are worse things, though, and I know I’d much rather have a President who sneaks a smoke once in a while than one who is incapable of running the country.

Lisa Jack, the woman who took the classic pictures of Obama now on Time’s website, said that he was “very charismatic, even then,” and that she met him again 25 years later in 2005 in Washington. She said “He knew exactly who I was after all this time.” Jack now works as a psychologist.

Thanks to The Huffington Post for the heads up on this story.

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81 Responses to “Obama smoking funny-looking cigarette in college photo”

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  1. Kim says:

    I love those pictures. Thanks you CB. I don’t want to call him cute but he looks so sweet. Beautiful pictures.

    Note: Why the eye catching header?

  2. 88modesty88 says:

    Yes Kim, I wanted to ask that too: why the heading?
    It’s obvious that he’s smoking a normal cigarette and not a joint or anything.

    (I smoke handrolled cigs — and they def look very different!)

  3. Celebitchy says:

    It’s based on this story about Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC asking Time’s editor about the cigarette specifically, and being skeptical about it. It does look suspicious to me the way he’s holding it. I’ll add that part about Mitchell asking about it.

  4. Syko says:

    He’s so cute in those pictures! Collegiate coolness! :D

    Obviously it’s a regular cigarette, it’s too perfectly round to be a joint. The way he’s holding it would suggest some familiarity with the other kind of smokin’, but who cares? He’s said he did it. He’s open and honest about it.

    As for his present-day smoking, he’s honest about that too, unlike some presidents in the past. JFK smoked cigars in private, Jackie smoked cigarettes. Smoking does not mean you’re an ax murderer.

  5. geronimo says:

    For the love of God, if the man wants to smoke, let him smoke!!! Seriously, outing evil smokers last week, now telling the President he’s setting a bad example by having an occasional fag!! Please stop!!

    Rant over. Great pics. And who cares if it’s a roll-up or a joint, although it looks like a roll-up to me.

  6. elisha says:

    @Kiim & modesty: It’s an appropriate heading and header photo. That particular picture is the one making the rounds and most people I’ve spoken with have already labeled it “Obama smoking a J”… so saying he’s smoking a “funny looking cigarette” reflects both the fact that people think it’s pot and that it’s actually a cigarette.

  7. Syko says:

    OK, obviously I am not allowed to comment on Barack Obama. I can’t post anything that doesn’t go into moderation. I think I’ll go do something else. This is starting to be more than annoying.

  8. Ling says:

    @ Kim: I’ll call him cute! I’ll take the responsibility!

    I’ll also take the responsibility of saying that he flat-out shouldn’t smoke because he has young children. If he means to quit, he’d better hurry up and do it before the inauguration because I’m sure the stresses of the job will make it difficult to impossible.

    Header could be a joint. So what if it is? I know if we Canadians heard politicians claiming they’d never smoked marijuana we’d roll our eyes and say, “Sure.”

  9. 88modesty88 says:

    Thanks for clearing that up, CB…

    I still maintain that it does not look like a joint or handrolled cig!
    BUT I have to agree that I would never hold my handrolled smokes like that — scared I’ll get busted just because it looks like I’m toking up…

  10. vdantev says:

    Yeah, and…..

  11. 88modesty88 says:

    Hey Dante, who are ya talking to?

  12. bros says:

    that definitely doesnt look like a handrolled cigarette. its the same circumference all the way around-its just the shadows that give the appearance of anything but. take a closer look. its a mass produced cig. nothing interesting. people need to stop being lame.

  13. Claudia says:

    I actually know a lot of smokers who hold their cigarettes like this before they put them out (don’t ask me why, it just goes hand in hand with the movements that follow, almost fascinating). And to me it looks like a handrolled cigarette (people carrying around their tabaco everywhere to role their cigs can be pretty annoying too).

    Maybe it’s because I’m european but I just don’t get the anti-smokers sentiments in the US. If they wanna smoke, let them smoke. Since it’s legal, it’s not up to other people to decide whether it’s their right to do it or not

  14. 88modesty88 says:

    Aawww, Claudia, why do we annoy you when we carry around our tobacco to role our own cigs?!

    I roll my own because they are actually healthier than mass-manufactured cigs. I don’t get how that can annoy you, unless you really also want to be able to roll and dunno how! (LOL, j/k)

  15. Celebitchy says:

    @Syko – you got stuck in moderation because you used a smiley! For some reason all smiley posts get stuck in moderation with the new backend. It is very odd.

  16. M.E. says:

    Man smoke em if ya got em.

  17. Kaiser says:

    It’s a cigarette! And let the man have a smoke every now and then! It isn’t like the ZOMG End of the World!

    Sometimes I think “The West Wing” completely prepared a generation of Americans not only for a modern-day prez who has the odd cigarette, but for this whole election.

  18. prissa says:

    It’s a cig, sheesh. When I smoke the occasional cig I hold it like this when it gets down to the end and it’s not large enough to hold the regular way. From the looks of the pic he is doing this too.

  19. rottenkitty says:

    You can always tell the people who have never smoked — either tobacco or pot. Everything looks like a joint to them.

    And who gives a rat’s ass anyway? He’s admitted to smoking both pot and tobacco. A picture from 25 years ago hardly seems as important as the job he has before him cleaning up this whole economic, ecological, war mess.

    Damn, if he walked on water someone would complain about the type of shoes he was wearing.

  20. jess says:


    as someone who smokes, i find the mentality here frustrating. nobody gets mad at people for having a glass of wine with dinner and i know plenty of people that have a drink everyday when they get home from work. i find it especially rude and offensive when people walk by and start (obviously fake) coughing. im not blowing it in your face, nor am i smoking in a confined area. its appalling that people think they can do things like that.

    i love cb but im starting to get offended every time there is an article about evil evil smokers. its a choice, and a legal one at that.

  21. Syko says:

    OK, CB, not smiling at anyone else EVER. Someone on another thread said I was sour, so I’m gonna be. I don’t think the smiley being in one post should make the next two which had no smilies also go into moderation, but I don’t understand machinery.

  22. Fizz says:

    Well, the pic is obviously not a joint, but he does look like he had lots of experience holding the real thing, which of course he has admitted to.

    What bothers me is that this doesn’t set a good example for kids and it bothers me this didn’t come out before the election, I feel that him being a smoker was covered up and that to many people weren’t aware of it and will be hurt when they find out. I know because I am bothered by what I have found out since the election.

  23. mel says:

    It’s a cig…sorry for all of you Obama-haters. I’m sure if it was otherwise, McCain and Plain would have used this against him in the election. He’s so cool though.

  24. daisy424 says:

    Who gives a rat’s ass what he is smoking. I choose to enjoy the photos without that controversy.

    I am impressed with the photos and his youthful appearance. He looks unguarded, casual, and gorgeous, leave it at that.

  25. aleach says:

    these pictures are great!
    its a cig, a plain ole cigarette.
    of course everyone is going to freak out “OMG! obama smoking a J! what a crazy liberal pothead!” LOL

  26. KDRockstar says:

    Kaiser took my post… Martin Sheen for prez!

  27. california angel says:

    After all of the things that have happened in the last 8 years we are really caring about whether the president-elect smoked pot back in the day? Really?

  28. anon says:

    and that’s the way you propel the smears… it’s only the start as the press reverts to the clinton rules where smears and lies and just made up shit can be flung at obama; and now the corporate press has the additional benefit of the internet in its machinery.


  29. Jerry says:

    You guys must not smoke weed. Look at the little slits he has for eyes. He is tokin’ some serious skunk.

  30. Mairead says:

    Indeed California Angel, or that there was some conspiracy to shield the public from the fact that he smokes tobacco now!

    I’m about as much of an rabid anti-smoker as you can get (I’m allergic) and even I think yez are either feckin’ cosseted or cracked!

    Try living in a country where the least of the problems with your politicans is a box of twenty. I’m seriously cursing the lack of an eyerolling smiley now. Grr

  31. A.J. says:

    The pictures make me love the man even more.

  32. kate says:

    obviously it’s a hand rolled cig, not a joint.look closely and you’ll see. and i have much more respect for him for admitting past drug use than pretending he never tried anything, like every other politican does (hello clinton and bush!)

  33. Ernestine says:

    I really hate smoking and I’m not going to get into the obvious reasons why, but Barack Obama also looks hot as hell in this shot.

    I just wanted to say that.

  34. marie says:

    In a number of literary works from the 70s, there is reference to a difference in the way different ethnic groups hold their cigarettes, particularly in Vietnam fiction and memoir. That “hold” was typical for black men in the 70s, no matter what they were smoking.

  35. vdantev says:

    just in general sort of a “Yeah… And..” to the topic itself. More people getting worked up over nothing. If that’s all the dirt they could dig up on Obama- I could care less.

  36. manda says:

    I really hate judgey non-smokers. Hey guess what? It’s not illegal to smoke. There are worse things. And hopefully he’s raising his daughters to have minds of their own. You think???

  37. ER says:

    I don’t care if it’s a cigarette or a joint – but if this had been a picture of McCain or Palin people would be all over them about it, damning them over the evils of smoking.

  38. Ana' says says:

    I seriously can’t believe some of the post here. Our economy is in the p.iss.er, the auto industry is about to join the endangered species list, we’re fighting 2 wars and some are worried because the prez elect might be smo.kin’ a joint in a pic taken over 20 years ago!! and we dare he, what example is he setting for his kid’s; being a harvard grad and becoming the 1st black prez of an industrialized nation doesn’t qualify as a good example??! Geez.
    Ya know it could be worse; McCain/Palin could be announcing cabinet picks.

  39. Mairead says:

    I’m pretty sure I’d have the same reaction if it was McCain, Palin or Biden.

  40. geronimo says:

    @ER – It’s a ridiculous criticism regardless of who it is. If it were Hitler or Pol Pot or Robert Mugabe or Heather Mills, I’d still be defending his/her right to smoke a fag.

  41. NotBlonde says:

    I used to smoke and I can with absolute confidence say that that is a boring ol’mass produced, likely a Lucky Strike, cigarette.

    Beside that, rude smokers get on my nerves. If you are going to smoke, face downwind. If that is impossible, don’t smoke in crowded areas. Your secondhand smoke is killing other people. Sorry, it’s the truth. And that smoke is worse for us because it hasn’t been filtered.

    I smoked because I was stressed out a lot and it calmed me down. I think it was the something to focus on bit that calmed me down. Anyway, it doesn’t make me think any less of the President Elect and I don’t think anyone should look to him and say it’s ok to smoke just because he does. Anyone who does something just because someone else does something is weak-minded and stupid.

  42. ER says:

    Good point Mairead. I’m anti-smoking as well so I wouldn’t be pleased no matter who it was. I was just saying that all the ‘smoking tolerance’ wouldn’t necessarily be extended to the republicans. If it’d been McCain/Palin people would be saying it was a joint for sure and then condemming them for it. But since it’s BO they don’t care what/if he smokes.

  43. Annie says:

    I like the pictures and I like that he’s honest.

    And @ ER, I think it would be the same exact reaction. I think it’s inaccurate to make the underlying assumption that we all think Obama’s without fault.

    But he’s clearly smoking a cigarette, and if Palin was shown clearly smoking a cigarette and she had in the past admitted to being a smoker, then my reaction would not be one of shock and distaste as you seem to imply it would be.

    You behave as if Democrats automatically give Obama a free pass because he’s Obama. Not. True.

    Contrary to what you may believe, we DO think for ourselves, and we happen to like him because of who he is, content-wise.

  44. vdantev says:

    I’d have more respect for a GOP candidate who smoked instead being one of those whining crying quitter-babies.

  45. “I inhaled – frequently. . . that was the point!”

    Progressive politics aside, Obama won me over with his candor and honesty; to say nothing of his admiration for my sweet Lady Jane.

  46. Kylie says:

    Fizz. What a fizzer of a comment.

  47. Jennie says:

    Anyone commenting from Chicago? They don’t call it the Windy City for nothing. If you are a smoker in a very windy locale then that is the way you cup a cigarette to prevent the wind from sending sparks and ash everywhere. Or if you are from Europe!

  48. shane says:

    Save your anti smoker bullshit, it’s probably the hardest “drug” to quit. I’ll be the first to say, nicotine is a hell of a thing.

  49. fred says:

    that’s not even his hand. As I recall it was Dianes…She was doing him a favor and holding the joint up to his mouth…

  50. RaraAvis says:

    Uh, Jerry? Cigarette smokers squint because the smoke is a bitch when it gets in your eyes. Doesn’t mean he’s stoned. Love these pix!

  51. jennifer says:

    “funny-looking cigarette”??? Are you KIDDING me?!?!

    Dear lord. We need more JayBird.

  52. Ria says:

    At least he admits he inhaled.

  53. mark says:

    I hope he has smoked dope and inhaled. Maybe then we can make some progress on the absurd hypocrisy of the neurotoxin alcohol being legalized and normalized and the medicinal marijuana being criminalized. It’s a joke.

  54. Candy says:

    Absolutely LOVE this man. He was and still is a cutie.

  55. Shay says:

    Yea probably a rolled cig. He does look baked in the pics though…

  56. Joseph says:

    The dope fried his brain and shrunk his balls.

  57. Weevils says:

    “Dope” ? Giving away your age there buddy boy.

  58. vdantev says:

    Not as much as it did yours Joseph, you GOP goose-stepper.

  59. RandalH says:

    It’s nice to see all these people who would normally claw one’s eyes out for smoking have such a gracious attitude towards it in this particular case. Sycophants are a weird bunch.

  60. Bobby the K says:


    Two questions.

    What if it is pot?

    Who cares and so what?

  61. 2DamTrill says:

    Blaze up B.O. You are a grown a$$ man. Do whut ya like…Bush did allot of coke, got D.U.I.s and all, let alone killing people and dodging duty in the military. I say fuk em all if they don’t like it… Tell ya own damn kids not to smoke!

  62. vdantev says:

    Sycophants are a weird bunch. But not nearly as weird as those of you who make incredibly inaccurate leaps of logic and simultaneously poison the critical well in one sentence just to prove how cool and anti-Obama you are.

  63. Just Saying The Truth says:

    Obama will change things to the best! I dont care if he smokes or drinks or does drugs.. he is a smart man and he knows how to do things right!

  64. Aspen says:

    Like W didn’t smoke pot? I didn’t care about W’s younger days, and I don’t have any interest in Obama’s post-adolescent hijinx, either. I don’t really care if Obama freebased Drain-O in college. He’s not doing it now and hasn’t for years.

    I dislike Obama’s politics…but I don’t care if he smoked some weed in college and I don’t care if he smokes cigarettes now (except that it’s going to shorten his life, which I would find sad).

    I just wish he’d cop to the ciggie smoking and quit lying to hide it. It’s juvenile.

    Awesome pictures.

  65. Rosebudd says:

    Barry even has his cool magnetic bracelet on. I don’t recall seeing those in the early 80′s. I like the picture.

  66. Rachel says:

    I think that photo looks like it’s been photoshopped. the angle of the arm looks kinda wrong and though it could be a slight motion blur, the pixels of the arm look different from the rest of the picture. i really think it was photoshopped….

  67. Boryana Dimitrova says:

    i just want to say that these pictures are amaZing! Young Obama looks full with hope and ready to make a change!!! HE IS THE MAN :) ))

  68. Holley says:

    I agree with you Rachael…looks very much like a “fixed photo”…notice how long his forearm would have to be if it was real….in any case, if it is a real pic, it’s an OLD pic?

  69. EWilcox says:

    These photos are awesome. Lisa Jack did a great job. I found this place to buy Obama Keepsakes with Lisa Jack’s photos. Awesome!

  70. Funny sms says:

    Cigarette smokers squint because the smoke is a bitch when it gets in your eyes. Doesn’t mean he’s stoned

  71. nicole420 says:

    why doesnt everyone just exept its weed. just because its rolled good doesnt mean its tabbacco inside i can roll a perfact joint. and hes holding it like a joint. its not a bad thing. im a stoner i want my prez to smoke thats dank. ilove it

  72. Dan says:

    I am getting a Hendrix flashback moment here!

  73. he very funniest man .he very know how hod the cigar

  74. I didn’t find anything funny here as title says.But anyway Obama was looking good in his college time.

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  77. Rachel says:

    Someone needs to get him an electronic cigarette!

  78. Mark says:

    Hahah, seriously, I couldn’t pick out Obama from this pic.

  79. why doesnt everyone just exept its weed. just because its rolled good doesnt mean its tabbacco inside i can roll a perfact joint. and hes holding it like a joint. its not a bad thing. im a stoner i want my prez to smoke thats dank. ilove it

  80. he very funniest man .he very know how hod the cigar