WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain on Sunday said he was not promoting smoking in an ad that showed his chief of staff puffing on a cigarette.
The ad stirred much debate over what message it was trying to convey. Cain, a non-smoker, appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” and said there was no subliminal signal intended.
“One of the themes within this campaign is let Herman be Herman. Mark Block is a smoker and we say let Mark be Mark,” Cain said, referring to his chief of staff. “That’s all we’re trying to say because we believe let people be people. He doesn’t deny that he’s a smoker.”
Cain, a former pizza executive, said the ad was not intended to glamorize smoking or offend anyone.
“We weren’t trying to say it’s cool to smoke,” he said.
A Reuters/Ipsos online poll of registered Republicans released on Friday found that more than a quarter thought the ad communicated that Cain endorses smoking.
Republicans were divided over whether they loved or hated the ad. Six in 10 of those who strongly identify with the conservative Tea Party movement said they loved or liked the ad, while an almost equal percentage of those who identify as mainstream Republicans said they disliked or hated it.
“Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer, a cancer survivor like Cain, in an unusual airing of his own opinion during the interview told Cain it did not serve the country to show someone smoking a cigarette.
“And you’re the front-runner now. And it seems to me, as front-runner, you would have a responsibility not to take that kind of a tone in this campaign,” Schieffer said. “I would suggest that perhaps, as the front-runner, you’d want to raise the level of the campaign.”
Schieffer suggested Cain tell young people not to smoke and the candidate obliged.
“Young people of America, all people, do not smoke,” Cain said. “It is hazardous and it’s dangerous to your health. Don’t smoke. I’ve never smoked and I have encouraged people not to smoke.”