White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles Speaks On Tobacco Legislation
March 30, 1998
SPEAKER: ERSKINE BOWLES, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF
BOWLES: Thank you, Mike. I will tell you that, if Carolina
had won that game, the president would have had to get somebody
else to make this speech.
I am happy to be at the Center for National Policy. Any
organization that's been headed by my childhood hero, Terry
Sanford; by Ed Muskie, who brought along Carol Parmalee, who I'm
devoted to; Mike Barnes and Kirk O'Donnell (ph), must be my kind
As many of you know, I am not generally the administration's
spokesperson on issues such as tobacco. But I am here today not
only as the chief of staff of this administration, but also as a
businessman, as a proud North Carolinian, and as a parent of
three children to talk to you about the president's plan to
protect our kids from tobacco.
Let me ask you to consider these facts.
Smoking kills 430,000 people every year. It kills more
people than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, murders, suicides,
fires and drugs combined. Smoking is still, by far, the largest
preventable cause of premature death in this country today.
Nearly 90 percent of smokers started smoking before they
reached the age of 18. Nearly half of these teenage smokers
think they will not be smoking five years after starting. Yet,
only one in five actually manages to quit.
Every day -- every single day -- 3,000 kids will become
regular smokers. And 1,000 of them -- 1,000 of them -- will die
sooner as a result.
At the same time, multimillion-dollar marketing and
advertising campaigns have been designed to get our kids to
light their first cigarette. I believe that is an outrage.
In the past months, new documents have come to light that
conclusively prove that tobacco companies aim to sell their
deadly products to children as young as 12 years of age. These
documents are a shocking reminder that our children are under
siege by a deadly and powerful enemy and it is up to us to
protect our children.
As chief of staff of this administration, I can tell you that
protecting our children from the threat of tobacco is right at
the top of President Clinton's agenda. And this administration
is fully committed to working in a truly bipartisan manner with
the leadership in Congress to achieve this goal.
This is a matter of priorities. It is not a matter of
Many members of Congress from both parties have shown
enormous leadership on this important issue.
First and foremost, Congressman Henry Waxman has been in the
forefront of this issue for years, providing the powerful
leadership it took to bring us to the critical point we are
today. It is a certainty that we would not be where we are
today if it were not for the leadership of Henry Waxman.
Congressman Bliley -- Congressman Bliley has recently done
the American people a great service by having thousands of pages
of documents -- documents from the tobacco companies -- posted
on the Internet so all the world can see how the tobacco
companies have gone after our kids.
Congressman Fazio, and Senators Conrad, Harkin and Chafee --
each of these men have worked long and hard to introduce tobacco
legislation that this administration can support.
And Senator McCain -- Senator McCain has provided great
leadership in the Commerce Committee to draft a bipartisan bill
that will move us closer to enacting comprehensive tobacco
Every one of you in this room knows that putting together
legislation that is as large and complex as this is is indeed a
I certainly learned that when we put together the
bipartisan balanced budget agreement. But Senator McCain has
done so in a way that has been both open and inclusive as well
as efficient and productive.
Senator McCain will most likely reduce -- excuse me -- will
most likely release this bill later today. And we will need to
review it in detail before making any final judgments. But
based on what I have seen and heard, I will say this today. We
expect to see a bill from Senator McCain that will lay a
foundation for further action but also has room for real
For example, we do not believe the McCain bill will impose
strong enough look-back penalties on companies that continue to
sell tobacco to our children. Reducing youth smoking is our
bottom line. It must also be the industry's bottom line.
We also anticipate seeing some gaps in the bill. The McCain
bill does not try to comprehensively address the questions of
how best to use tobacco revenues to protect the public health
and to help our children.
As for liability, it is not yet clear what Senator McCain
will provide. But our position is clear. Unless we are
imposing tough penalties on the tobacco companies and doing
everything in our power to reduce youth smoking, this
administration will not address proposals to give the tobacco
companies protection from liability. As we have said many
times, reasonable limits on liabilities will not be a
deal-breaker in a bill that meets all of the president's
principles. But first, we have to get that kind of bill.
We do believe the McCain bill will make significant inroads
on youth smoking by substantially increasing the price of a pack
of cigarettes. We believe the McCain bill will also give the
FDA the full authority it needs to regulate tobacco products,
including the authority to restrict both the advertising aimed
at young people and their access to tobacco.
And the McCain bill is also expected to contain a strong plan
to protect our tobacco farmers and their farming communities.
We look forward to working with Senator McCain and others on
the Commerce Committee and in the full Senate to significantly
strengthen this bill and make it an even more effective
instrument to reduce youth smoking.
As you all know, President Clinton has proposed a
comprehensive plan that he believes and experience shows is the
best way to stop youth smoking before it starts.
We are pleased that the McCain bill will likely include many
of the elements of the president's plan, and we will work long
and hard with Senator McCain to make sure that we improve his
bill so that it meets all of the president's goals.
The president's plan would raise the price of tobacco by up
to $1.10 a pack over five years and $1.50 a pack over 10 years
and impose tough penalties on companies that continue to sell
their products to children. It would affirm the FDA's full
authority to regulate tobacco products. It would get companies
out of the business of marketing and advertising and selling
their products to minors. It would promote the public health
research and public health goals, and it would protect our
tobacco farmers and their farming communities.
The Treasury Department has found that the president's
proposal to stop teenage smoking will save one million lives
over the next five years. Last week Vice President Gore
announced that new estimates show that our proposal would have
major effects on youth smoking in every single state, while
reducing smoking among teenagers from an amount of 33 percent in
the state of Washington to 51 percent in Kentucky.
For every dime added to the price of cigarettes over the next
five years, up to 270,000 fewer teenagers will begin smoking,
and more than 90,000 premature deaths will be avoided.
Price increases alone are projected to reduce teenage smoking
over the next five years by up to 29 percent. Youth access and
marketing restrictions in the president's plan are projected to
reduce teenage smoking by an additional 11 percent.
The combination of price increases called for in the
president's plan plus the tighter restrictions on youth access
and marketing will reduce the number of youths smoking by three
million between now and the year 2003, and more importantly, it
will help us avoid approximately one million premature deaths.
Now, the tobacco companies themselves must also be a part of
the solution. As the president has said, advertising aimed at
adults is legal. But the tobacco companies must -- the tobacco
companies must draw the line at advertising to our children.
Our proposal requires tobacco companies to help establish
smoking-cessation programs for adult smokers and to launch
public education campaigns aimed at our children to keep them
from smoking in the first place.
The heavy human cost of smoking to our families and
communities is indeed tragic. But as a businessman, I can tell
you that the economic cost to our society is also extremely
high. Smoking-related illnesses cost approximately $60 million
every year. That's more than the federal government spends on
education, child care and medical research combined.
Smoking during pregnancy results in 2,500 fetal deaths every
year and costs $4 billion per year. This amount is close to
double what we spend on cancer research each year.
Smokers die earlier and they have to retire sooner. And this
is estimated to cost our economy as much as $80 billion every
year in lost output, lost productivity and lost wages. These
costs rob our economy and cheat the American people out of their
hard-earned tax dollars. But if we pass the president's plan,
we will take the first important steps to reducing these costs,
increasing productivity, and most importantly, saving lives.
We know that this plan will be good for America, and as a
North Carolinian, born and bred in tobacco country, I can tell
you that we must also make sure that we treat our tobacco
The president has made protecting tobacco farmers and their
communities one of the five key elements of his plan for
comprehensive tobacco legislation. We can achieve the twin
goals of both protecting the health of the public and protecting
the well-being of our farming communities.
Recently, a remarkable coalition of farming groups, including
both burley and flue-cure farmers and public health groups,
both the American Heart Association and the American Cancer
Society, came together around a shared set of principles. We
believe that this is a consensus that we can build upon.
We propose to use some of the revenues from raising the price
of cigarettes to make sure that we save our kids without
devastating our farm communities. That is a commitment this
administration has made, and we are optimistic, but a consensus
is forming in Congress to use some of this money to help tobacco
farmers along the way.
President Clinton has submitted to the Congress the first
balanced budget in 30 years. This budget protects our children
from the harms of tobacco and our nation from the burdensome
cost associated with teen smoking. This budget also uses the
very money raised by raising the price of cigarettes to invest
in the future of our children and the future of our nation.
Our budget uses the tobacco money for critical investments in
health research -- including biomedical research, cancer
clinical trials and children's help outreach; increases by
nearly 50 percent the funding for the National Institutes of
Health. We also make historic investments in child care and
afterschool care, doubling the number of working families who
receive child care and significantly increasing the number of
students receiving afterschool care. And lastly, we make
unprecedented investments in education, reducing class size,
hiring 100,000 additional teachers and building or
rehabilitating 5,000 schools.
Finally, and most importantly, as a parent of three
children, I can tell you that when I hear the statistics I
mentioned earlier, it makes my blood run cold.
When I saw the documents that showed that tobacco companies
had deliberately, deliberately tried to get our children to
smoke despite the fact that a full one-third of the 3,000 kids
who start smoking every day die prematurely, I knew then and
there that we must not rest until we have done every single
thing we possibly can to protect our children from tobacco.
We have it within our power right now to save the lives of
one million kids over the next five year. We must not, we must
not miss this historic opportunity.
As President Clinton recently said, we stand on the verge of
the greatest public health achievement in history, a historic
triumph in our fight to protect America's children from the
deadly threat of tobacco.
As chief of staff of this administration, as a businessman,
as a North Carolinian, as a parent of three children, and as an
American, I ask you to support our efforts and to work with us
in a bipartisan manner to meet this vitally important challenge.