Lavrov lights up another
Lavrov lights up another Reuters

What do Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Winston Churchill and Jawaharlal Nehru all have in common? They were (are) all fond of smoking.

Rates of cigarette and cigar smoking have been falling across the Western world as a confluence of health advocacy and advertisement restrictions have prodded millions of people to either quit or not take up the deadly habit in the first place.

But a surprising number of global leaders like to light up, although a great many avoid doing so in public.

In recent years, much discussion has been made about U.S. Presidents Obama and Clinton and their habit of smoking cigarettes and cigars, respectively.

“I've never been a heavy smoker,” Obama told the media during his campaign run in 2007. “I've quit periodically over the last several years. I've got an ironclad demand from my wife that in the stresses of the campaign I don't succumb. I've been chewing Nicorette strenuously.”

At the time Obama said he had been smoking periodically since the late 1970s when he was a teenager, but cautioned that he smoked fewer than 10 cigarettes a day.

The growing opposition to smoking over health matters and the negative public image it engenders has forced many public figures “into the closet,” so to speak.

“Brand has become so big with personalities,” said Irving Rein, a communications-studies professor at Northwestern University, according to “It includes the kind of suit he [Obama] wears and the shoes he chooses. Smoking is part of that package. It doesn't go with the social, environmental message of reform he would like to project. His image would be impacted by it.”

Obama reportedly quit tobacco in 2010.

The last U.S. president to smoke publicly was Franklin Delano Roosevelt with his trademark cigarette holder. But a number of his successors, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, as well as Obama and Clinton, were all dedicated to tobacco or the pipe at one time or another.

In fact, according to GQ, when a doctor told LBJ that he needed to quit smoking, he reportedly replied: "I'd rather have my pecker cut off." JFK eschewed cigarettes and pipes, but loved cigars, including, ironically, Cuban stogies.

Ike had a four-pack-a-day habit, according to, while Hillary Clinton banned smoking in the White House in 1993, even ordering that all ashtrays be removed.

One of Obama’s principal rivals in Washington, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, is also a heavy smoker, one who has been forced to practice his habit in private since puffing is banned in all public places in the Capitol.

Referring to his love for Camel Ultra Lights, the speaker told NBC News: "I am who I am."

Perhaps not surprisingly, Boehner also takes money from the tobacco lobby.

"Tobacco is a legal product in America," Boehner told CBS News. "The American people have a right to decide for themselves whether they want to partake or not. There are lots of things that we deal with and come in contact with every day, from alcohol to food to cigarettes, a lot of the things that aren't good for our health. But the American people ought to have the right to make those decisions on their own."

He added: "I wish I didn't have this bad habit … but it's something that I choose to do, and you know at some point, maybe I'll decide I've had enough of it.”

Some first ladies, including Jackie Kennedy and Laura Bush, also liked to smoke in private – although photographs of evidence are scant, or perhaps nonexistent. (Laura reportedly is loyal to the Kent brand.)

Throughout the 20th century, many well-known politicians and public figures around the world smoked -- of course, up until the 1960s or so, smoking carried little or no stigma,.

The ex-chancellor of West Germany Helmut Schmidt (who is still alive at 94) was famous for lighting up cigarettes during TV interviews. In fact, in December 2011, when Schmidt (then 92) lit up a cigarette during a public TV interview, he attributed his mental fitness at such an advanced age to “lots and lots of cigarettes.” In response, the German anti-smoking group, Forum Rauchfrei, filed a formal complaint against the TV network ARD, citing that it violated anti-smoking legislation. (Schmidt reportedly will only do interviews if he is permitted to smoke).

Queen Margrethe II of Denmark is so fond of tobacco that she is called the “Ashtray Queen.” The three-pack-a-day monarch shares the habit with almost 40 percent of the Scandinavian country’s women – something partly attributed to the very popular Margrethe herself.

“What happened in Denmark is that in the early [1970s] Queen Margrethe II of Denmark ascended to the throne … and she is very popular in Denmark and she is also a chain smoker," Professor Hugo Kesteloot of Katholieke University in Leuven, Belgium, told ABC News.

Margrethe once quipped: "I smoke wherever there's an ashtray.” Incidentally, her mother, Queen Ingrid, was also a heavy smoker and lived to be 90.

Other prominent global smokers include King Hussein of Jordan, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall and wife of Prince Charles, the late Queen Juliana of the Netherlands and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey.

Many British politicians smoke -- perhaps the most famous was Prime Minister Winston Churchill, whose image is practically inseparable from the huge cigars he devoured.

Churchill, who is believed to have consumed between eight to 10 cigars daily, once reported told a Saudi royal figure that his rules for life consisted of "an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after and if need be during all meals and in the intervals between them.”

Churchill’s World War II allies Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin were both keen smokers, while Axis despots Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini did not partake.

On the other side of the political aisle, Labour PM Harold Wilson was rarely seen without a pipe in his mouth (usually for TV interviews), while smoking cigarettes in private.

Even Ken Clarke, who served as Britain's secretary of health in the late 1980s, puffed on cigars, while drinking pints of beer to relax.

Princess Margaret and former Labour leader Neil Kinnock also smoked heavily, while Conservative Trade Secretary Nicholas Ridley, a chain smoker, was virtually never seen without a cigarette (he died of lung cancer in 1993).

Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, the trend towards banning smoking in public places has created some awkward moments for officials who are addicted to tobacco.

Consider the case of Russia’s formidable and intimidating foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.

In 2003, when he served as Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Lavrov fumed when a smoking ban at the UN was instituted by then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"The UN secretary-general can by all means tell his underlings what to do but not members of diplomatic missions," Lavrov told Russian media. "Imposing the code of behavior of a city on the UN building is totally absurd.”

He adding that Annan was likely seeking to curry favor with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a vociferous opponent of smoking.

"[Lavrov] reached for a Marlboro whenever he could and enjoyed a glass of Scotch whisky," Evelyn Leopold, a former Reuters UN correspondent, told the Moscow Times.

However, earlier this year, Lavrov’s own boss in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin, cracked down on smoking in public places – in a country, where an estimated 40 percent of all adults (including Lavrov) smoke.

Presumably, Lavrov himself will now be forbidden to light up in the Kremlin or in any other public place in Russia.

"Specialists believe that the law will greatly improve the [public health] situation and within the next 10-15 years will cut in half the amount of smoking in Russia," a Health Ministry official told the Interfax news agency. Government figures suggest up to 400,000 Russians die annually from smoking.

Neither Putin nor Prime Minister Medvedev smokes.

Other major Europeans also like to smoke – the conservative Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who favors cigars, once complained (in 2009, prior to his election) that “The Atlantic Ocean is about the last place left where you can smoke.”

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front party who is reportedly the second most popular politician in the country, also chain-smokes (like many of her fellow countrymen) and doesn’t mind having her photos taken with a cigarette dangling from her lips.