White House press secretary Josh Earnest denied that President Barack Obama was holding a pack of cigarettes in a photo that spread far and wide on social media.
The photo from this weekend’s Group of Seven summit in Germany showed Obama chatting on a balcony with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and holding what could look like a pack of smokes, prompting a flurry of speculation.
Earnest told reporters Wednesday that he doesn’t know what the president was holding, and said he didn’t ask Obama what it was.
Referring to the photo, a reporter asked, “Does he have a pack of cigarettes in his hand?”
Earnest responded, “He does not.”
“What was it?” the reporter followed
“I don’t know. I wasn’t there,” Earnest said.
The reporter asked if Obama told Earnest what it was.
“You may not be surprised to hear that I have not raised this issue with the president,” Earnest said.
After the reporter continued to press, Earnest said, “I’ve told you that they’re not cigarettes. Let’s move on.”
Obama has acknowledged struggling with his nicotine habit. In 2013, he was caught on a hot mic joking about quitting because of his wife.
“I haven’t had a cigarette in probably six years. That’s because I’m scared of my wife,” he said.
He gave a more candid assessment to reporters in 2009, saying during a news conference, “Have I fallen off the wagon sometimes? Yes. Am I a daily smoker, a constant smoker? No.”
“I would say that I am 95 percent cured,” Obama said, “But there are times where … There are times where I mess up.”