THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||June 15, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO THE PRESIDENTIAL SCHOLARS
2:40 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Welcome to theWhite House. I want to thank Bruce Reed for his service, and I wantto thank him for making a joke about how young he looks and saving methe trouble of doing it. (Laughter.)
Secretary Shalala, Deputy Secretary of Education Smith,to the Communication on Presidential Scholars and its chair, StuartMoldaw, to the corporate sponsors as well as the families andteachers and friends of the scholars here today, and most of all toyou scholars, welcome to the White House. I hope you have enjoyedthe day so far. I want to begin by thanking the United States MarineBand, this year celebrating its 200th anniversary as the President'sband, playing for you. (Applause.)
The Presidential Scholars award dates back to 1964 whenPresident Johnson signed an executive order, and I quote, "torecognize the most precious resource of the United States -- thebrainpower of its young people." Today I look out across a group ofyoung people whose brainpower could light up this entire city.Someday, many of you doubtless will light up this entire city.Already you have enriched your communities by your activities inmusic, art, athletics, and citizen service. I'm especially gratefulto those of you who have helped to mentor or tutor children who needyour help.
As you look ahead to further academic success, let mesay that I very much hope you will continue to pursue other interestsas well, including community service. And I hope you will becomeincreasingly involved as citizens in the great issues of today andtomorrow.
We are going through a period of profound change. Youare on the edge of a new century and a new millennium. We are veryfortunate that this is such a good time for America. And every day Iget up and give thanks for the fact that we have the lowest crimerate in 25 years, the lowest unemployment rate in 28 years, thelowest welfare rolls in 29 years. We're about to have the firstbalanced budget and surplus in 29 years, the lowest inflation in 32years. We have the smallest federal government in 35 years, thehighest homeownership in history. Inequality among different classesof working people is going down and millions of children have beenlifted out of poverty in the last five years. I am grateful forthat.
But in that kind of environment where the Americanpeople feel great confidence and where your future looks so bright,it seems to me that as a people we have two different choices. Wecan do what people usually do in good times: we can relax and enjoythem. Or we can do what we should do: we should recognize thatthings are changing dramatically in our country and in the world,that we still have enormous challenges facing us in this new centuryand we should be bold and look ahead to the future -- to your future,to the world your children will live in -- and act now, when we havethe prosperity, the security, and the confidence to act on thelong-term challenges of the country. There are many.
Next year I believe we have to reform Social Securityand Medicare so that when we baby boomers retire we don't bankruptour children and undermine our children's ability to raise ourgrandchildren. I believe we have to make our public schools the bestin the world, just like our colleges and universities are now.(Applause.) I believe we have to deal with the growing problems ofcrime and violence among children and families. I think we stillhave economic challenges in the inner cities and isolated ruralareas. I believe we have to prove that we can grow the economy andimprove the environment, not continue to destroy it.
I believe we have serious challenges long-term if wewant to be the world's leading force for peace and freedom in theworld -- as the recent nuclear tests in India and Pakistan indicate,as the continuing turmoil in Kosovo indicates, as all the ethnic andreligious and racial strife in the rest of the world indicates.
So we have these big challenges. And I have beenhammering and hammering and hammering these last several months, herewith the Congress and out in the country, that we owe you -- ourgeneration owes you our best efforts to deal with the long-termchallenges of the country in these good times, not simply to relaxand enjoy them, because nothing like this lasts forever. It is anopportunity -- an opportunity to relax or to move forward. I thinkwe have to more forward.
I'd like to talk to you about one such issue today,because I think it is profoundly important to your future and tochildren coming along just behind you. And that is our obligation tocurtail what has become a deadly epidemic of teenage smoking. In1964, the very year President Johnson started the PresidentialScholars program -- when, coincidentally, I was exactly your age, butunlike Bruce Reed, didn't win one -- (laughter) -- the U.S. SurgeonGeneral presented the landmark report linking smoking and cancer.Today we're on the verge of making dramatic progress in our fightagainst teen smoking. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity topass comprehensive, anti-smoking legislation that can save onemillion Americans from premature, painful, preventable deaths justover the next five years.
Senator McCain and others have brought to the floor aprincipled and bipartisan proposal to protect children from tobacco.It raises the price of cigarettes by $1.10 a pack over the next fiveyears, the single most important step we can take to reduce teensmoking. It imposes tough penalties on tobacco companies if youthsmoking doesn't decline by two-thirds over the next decade. It givesthe Food and Drug Administration full authority over tobaccoproducts. It provides for a nationwide, counter-advertising campaignfor prevention, for smoking cessation programs, and tough enforcementmeasures to stop retailers from selling cigarettes to minors,something that is illegal now in all 50 states even though a hugepercentage of people under 18 but over 13 have tried cigarettes.
It provides assistance to the tobacco farmers who havedone nothing wrong. It funds a major increase in health research atthe National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.And it returns the states' funds to reimburse them for the massiveamount of money they have already spent in helping to deal with theeffects of smoking-related diseases, to be spent on health care andchild care
The McCain bill began as the strongest anti-youthsmoking legislation in history; it has been made stronger still. Inthe past week it has gained momentum as members of both partiesoffered amendments to fight teen drug use and to provide for taxrelief for low and middle income families. I don't see how anysenator can now stand in the way of a bill that fights drugs, cutstaxes, and protects young people from a habit that kills.
It's been almost exactly a year since the stateattorneys general proposal for a settlement brought comprehensivelegislation to our Congress, a month since the Senate began toconsider the issue. I urge the Senate to act now. Every day theSenate delays plays into the hands of the tobacco industry, whichwants desperately to kill this bill and which is spending millionsand millions of dollars on an advertising campaign designed toconvince the American people this is nothing more than a biggovernment tax increase to create huge big government bureaucracies.It is absolutely false.
I just came back from California and Oregon, and Itraveled around a lot in automobiles and had the chance to hear someof the advertising being run by the tobacco companies. And I thoughtto myself, it's not true but it sounds good. They basically say,forget about the fact that we didn't tell the truth to the Americanpeople for years, about our efforts to recruit teenagers to smokeillegally, about our memorandum which called them replacementsmokers; forget about the fact that we covered up for years the factthat we knew that tobacco was addictive. Just channel yourwell-known hatred of government and taxes against this bill.
And, unfortunately, the cancer society, the heartassociation, the lung association, the people who stand with us onthis legislation, don't have anything like the money that the tobaccocompanies have to put on ads that answer that.
Those of us in politics know that unanswered ads cansometimes be fatal. Well, if they're fatal this year, they will befatal to young children who continue to be seduced and sold illegallycigarettes that will shorten their lives. (Applause.)
Remember that every year smoking-related illnesses causemore deaths than AIDS, alcohol, drugs, car accidents, fires, andmurders combined. This is an important thing to do. So I ask youall, remember that 3,000 young children start to smoke everyday,illegally; a thousand will have their lives shortened because of it.The delays must come to an end. I ask the American people to maketheir voices heard. I ask the United States Senate to think aboutthe Presidential Scholars here and all the young people theyrepresent and pass the McCain bill this week. (Applause.) Thankyou.
I know many of the scholars here feel just as stronglyas I do. Patrick LaRochelle from Signal Mountain, Tennessee, hasbeen running four-and-a-half minute miles. I never did that.(Laughter.) He would sooner put on lead shoes than smoke acigarette. Alexis Blane, from Charlotte, North Carolina, has auntsand uncles and friends who have worked on tobacco farms. Yet everysingle one of them is adamant that smoking should be a habit youngpeople never start.
So I ask all of you whose communities look up to you:help your young friends take a stand against peer pressure, help themtake responsibility for their health in every way. At the nationallevel we can and must make it more difficult for cigarette companiesto market to teens. But to really cure our country of thissignificant public health challenge, we need the help of parents andsiblings, teachers and coaches and role models like you. The 21stcentury will be the time of greatest opportunity in all humanhistory. I want every American young person to be able to enjoy itto the fullest.
Congratulations and God bless you. Good luck.(Applause.)