Great American Smokeout

November 19, 1998

Hello Lafayette!

Let me ask a question: how many people want to be a hero like Nikki McCray? How many people want to be cool like Secretary Shalala? How many people want to be smart like Dr. Flanagan? How many people want Miss McLure on their team if we do have that White House snowball fight?

We are here today to say: if you want to do all those things, you have to work hard, you have to study, you have to exercise, you have to do your homework. But if somebody says that you have to smoke, what did Secretary Shalala teach you to say: I don't THINK so.

If somebody tells you that smoking is glamorous, what are you going to say: I don't THINK so.

If somebody offers you a cigarette, what are you going to say: I don't THINK so.

And if somebody tells you that it's cooler to smoke than not smoke, what are you going to say: I don't THINK so.

The cigarette companies are tricky. They want you to smoke. And they're going to try to make it look glamorous. Let me see a show of hands: how many of you know who Mickey Mouse is? Now, let me see a show of hands again: how many of you know who Joe Camel is?

Joe Camel looks cool. He wears a leather jacket. He dresses well. He's always having fun. The reason he looks like that is because tobacco companies want you to think that smoking is cool. They invented Joe Camel to get you to smoke. Because he looks so cool, 3,000 young people start smoking every day.

But what they don't tell you is that 1,000 of them will die from tobacco-related illnesses. Look around the room: that's more than twice as many of us as there are here today.

I have more bad news: a recent study found that smoking among high school students increased by nearly a third since 1991, to an astonishing 36.4 percent.

But you are smarter than the tobacco companies. All of you know: smoking isn't glamorous, it's gross. Before I came out, I heard Alex, Cassie, Moneyi, and DeDe singing the Lafayette Rap. Somebody joked that it's not a Puff Daddy song -- it's a No Puff Daddy song. But the Lafayette rap is right: "smoking turns lungs black and causes you to hack -- if you go ahead and smoke, you are going to croak."

That's why President Clinton and I have worked so hard the past six years to get people to stop smoking. We are beginning to understand why some young people smoke. But we know a lot about what it takes to prevent kids from smoking.

It takes doing away with ads that attract young people. It takes strong measures to make it harder for young people to buy cigarettes. It takes an agressive effort to help people quit smoking. It takes a clear, consistent, and convincing anti-smoking messages from parents and relatives, teachers and coaches, athletes and rap groups -- even movies and t.v.

Even though some states may take steps later this week, there is much more to do, and all of us have to play a role to stop smoking in America.

For all we know, we still have a lot to learn about why people smoke and how we can help them quit. That's why I am proud to announce today that we are launching a whole new research plan at the National Cancer Institute -- including an investment of $142 million -- to help stop and prevent people from smoking. That's an investment in stronger, healthier children all across America.

We also know that if people don't start smoking by the age of 19, they're likely never to start at all. That's why today we are launching a national advertising campaign -- using rap stars like Boyz II Men -- to convince children that smoking is deadly. This is the first time in history we have had nationwide ads targeted to prevent underage smoking. And, we are calling on schools across America to adopt programs to prevent and stop children from smoking.

We know what it takes to stop smoking. The real question is: what will it take for Congress to take action? Last year, Congress failed to act on the President's challenge to protect children from tobacco -- for all the wrong reasons. And since Congress went home in October, almost 90,000 young people joined the ranks of regular smokers. Imagine 180 rooms full of people just like this one. That's how many young people have started smoking.

When it comes to the job of protecting all of you from smoking, it is up to Congress to finish the job. When the new Congress returns in January, we are going to work hard to make sure that comprehensive tobacco legislation becomes law. This shouldn't be about politics. This is about saving kids like you and your friends. It's time for everyone in Congress to stand up and be counted. As for the rest of them -- we are going to smoke them out.

Let me ask one last question: how many of you are going to run that race later? When you run, breathe deep, enjoy the fresh air, think about how good it feels, and then ask yourself: why would I ever want to taste smoke instead? Together, we can give all of your classmates and all of your friends a healthier, happier future -- and it can't come a moment too soon.

Thank you.


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