Barack Obama failed to give a straight answer when asked on a Meet The Press yesterday whether he had managed to quit smoking.

The United States, where cigarettes are responsible for one in five deaths and smoking costs tens of billions of dollars in health care, The President elect has been under pressure to set an example by giving up his reported two-decade-old habit. Hard to believe that he is able to play basketball as well.

Interviewer Tom Brokaw told Mr Obama he was ducking answering the question.

Noting that the White House was a no-smoking zone, Brokaw asked Mr Obama, “Have you stopped smoking?”

“I have,” Mr Obama replied, smiling broadly. “What I said was that there are times where I have fallen off the wagon.”

“Wait a minute,” Brokaw interjected, “that means you haven’t stopped.”

“Fair enough,” Mr Obama said. “What I would say is that I have done a terrific job under the circumstances of making myself much healthier. You will not see any violations of these rules in the White House.”

Mr Obama was often observed on the presidential campaign trail chewing Nicorette gum, which helps ease the craving for nicotine. He has tried several times to quit.

The 47-year-old president-elect, who takes office on January 20, works out daily at the gym and sometimes plays basketball. His doctor said in May he was in excellent health, often jogged three miles a day and was fit to serve as US president.