President Bill Clinton On Tobacco Legislation
April 20, 1998
CLINTON: Good afternoon.
Today, Congress returns to work and to its obligation to act
on the most critical public health threat to our children. Over
the next time five weeks, this Congress has a historic
opportunity to pass bipartisan, comprehensive legislation to
protect our children from the dangers of tobacco.
We must not let this opportunity slip away.
The facts are plain as the stakes are high. Three thousand
children begin to smoke every day -- even though it's illegal in
every state. And 1,000 will die earlier because of it.
All those children have been targeted by a massive,
multimillion- dollar media campaign that preys on their
insecurities and their dreams.
For decades, we now know from their own documents, the
tobacco companies targeted children. And for decades, the
industry denied it.
Now, the tobacco industry once again seeks to put its bottom
line above what should be our bottom line -- the health of our
In today's newspaper, the lead lobbyist for the tobacco
industry says, and I quote, "We are fighting for our life."
Well, let me be clear. We are fighting for the lives of our
We are fighting for the public health. And we are fighting
against predatory practices by tobacco companies that have
targeting our children.
In the days to come, the tobacco industry will doubtless
raise objection after objection, and will work behind closed
doors to persuade Congress to pass half measures that will not
reduce teen smoking.
But I believe the majority of the American people -- and
indeed, the majority of Congress -- members of both parties in
Congress -- will see this for what it is -- a tobacco industry
I ask Congress and the American people to focus on the real
opportunity now within our reach.
Over the past five weeks, Congress must move forward -- over
the next five weeks, Congress must move forward on
comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to reduce teen smoking by
raising the price of cigarettes, putting into place tough
restrictions on advertising and access, and imposing penalties
on the industry if it continues to sell cigarettes to children.
We can do that and protect the tobacco farmers at
the same time. The legislation now moving through the Senate
authored by Senator McCain, which was voted out of committee on
a nearly unanimous bipartisan vote three weeks ago now, is a
strong step in the right direction.
This is not a time for half measures that simply won't reduce
teen smoking. And it will only play into the tobacco industry's
hands. It is a time for the kind of comprehensive approach to
the problem that Senator McCain's legislation takes.
We have an opportunity and an obligation now to put aside
politics; to turn aside the pleas of special interests; to act
in the interest of the health of generations of our children.
I call on Congress to do so, and I look forward to working
with them in good faith over the next few weeks.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) there are suggestions that Speaker
(sic) McCain -- or rather not McCain -- pardon me.
CLINTON: Is he running for speaker?
QUESTION: No. Perhaps he should. Speaker Gingrich wants to
water down the bill, and House Republicans -- there have been
those suggestions. What's your reading of Speaker Gingrich's
position? And what position should he take?
CLINTON: Well let me say, before his recent comments, I had
been encouraged, because he basically said that he would not
permit us to take a stronger position than he did. And that --
I was concerned by his reported comments. You know, I wasn't
here in the country. I didn't hear them. I didn't see the
context of them. But I certainly hope that he will return to
his former position.
We need this to be a bipartisan effort. We need everybody
And we can do this. And we can work through all the
differences that are out there, and we can pass a bill that will
clearly, dramatically reduce teen smoking. We can do it.
We've got fresh evidence from the Journal of the American
Medical Society, American Medical Association, showing that the
role of advertising on children and their smoking habits has
been even greater than peer pressure. We've got all this
evidence out there, and we know what to do, we know how to do
it. We can do it. And I'm just hoping and praying that we
QUESTION: Mr. President, what about needle exchanges, Mr.
President? Do you favor needle exchanges?