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Cigarette clamped between thumb and finger, a louche Barack Obama leans back with smouldering eyes and draws smoke deep into his lungs.

When he agreed to model for an aspiring photographer’s portfolio, the prospect of this image reemerging 28 years later as he prepared to enter the White House probably never crossed his mind.

Back then he was a student at Occidental College in Los Angeles struggling with his racial identity and, by his own admission, experimenting with drugs. These days he can claim to be the fittest President-elect in history, working out six days a week with a gym regime that some suspect borders on the obsessive. But he is still trying to kick cigarettes.

Time magazine, naming Mr Obama as its Person of the Year, yesterday published the long-lost pictures with the photographer, Lisa Jack, saying that they showed a “spirit of fun and thoughtfulness” in the President-elect.

The film, she said, was kept locked in a safe during the election campaign so that it could not be used for political purposes. Some polls have suggested that his smoking habit was a bigger barrier to him getting elected than the colour of his skin.

Although Mr Obama was careful to avoid being photographed smoking on the campaign trail, he has acknowledged in recent interviews that despite promising to quit “there were times where I have fallen off the wagon”.

Under pressure from his wife, Michelle, Mr Obama claims that his daily intake has fallen from a peak of seven or eight to rare occasions when he has “bummed one” from an aide.

His battle with cigarettes is facing another deadline – January 20, Inauguration Day – because smoking is banned in the White House. Asked if he would be able to cope, Mr Obama said: “What I would say is that I have done a terrific job under the circumstances of making myself much healthier, and I think that you will not see any violations of these rules.”

His daily routine now begins with a Secret Service convoy escorting him from his Chicago home to the Regents Park apartment building five blocks away to use the gym. Some suggest that his priority is physical, rather than spiritual, health. Mr Obama reportedly has not been to church since the election campaign ended, but he still finds time to exercise on Sundays.

In an interview with Men’s Health magazine last month, he complained that the average 45 minutes a day he had spent working out during the campaign had been insufficient. In the past month Mr Obama has usually been in the gym for well over an hour. “The main reason I do it is just to clear my head and relieve me of stress. It’s a great way to stay focused,” he said.

Those who have seen the 47-year-old President-elect in action say that there is not an ounce of fat on him and that runners on adjacent treadmills have been unable to keep up. There have also been five-a-side basketball games with some of his closest aides.

Michael Lowe, Professor of Psychology at Drexel University in Philadelphia, who studies eating disorders, has said that although “it’s hazardous to draw wide-ranging conclusions about someone’s personality”, exercising for more than an hour a day could be regarded as compulsive.

The website Gawker.com suggested that the incoming President’s slender physique put him at odds with a nation where obesity has become widespread. “Barack Obama Shames Americans With His Elitist Body” read the headline.

Mr Obama has described pictures of his torso taken on the beach in Hawaii as embarrassing. But he may still prefer that image to one of him smoking while wearing a hat.

Source: TimesOnline

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