Protect Our Children From Tobacco

Protect Our Children From Tobacco

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Conference By The President
August 10, 1995

smoke free chidren photo The President: Good afternoon. Today I am announcing broad executive action to protect the young people of the United States from the awful dangers of tobacco.

Over the years we have learned more and more about the dangers of addictive substances to our young people. In the '60s and '70s we came to realize the threat drugs posed to young Americans. In the '80s we came to grips with the awful problem of drunk driving among young people. It is time to take a third step to free our teenagers from addiction and dependency.

Adults are capable of making their own decisions about whether to smoke. But we all know that children are especially susceptible to the deadly temptation of tobacco and its skillful marketing. Today and every day this year, 3,000 young people will begin to smoke. One thousand of them ultimately will die of cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and other diseases caused by smoking. That's more than one million vulnerable young people a year being hooked on nicotine that ultimately could kill them.

Therefore, by executive authority, I will restrict sharply the advertising, promotion, distribution and marketing of cigarettes to teenagers. I do this on the basis of the best available scientific evidence, the findings of the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the Centers for Disease Control. Fourteen months of study by the Food and Drug Administration confirms what we all know -- cigarettes and smokeless tobacco are harmful, highly addictive and aggressively marketed to our young people. The evidence is overwhelming, and the threat is immediate.

Our children face a health crisis that is getting worse. One-third more 8th-graders, and one-quarter more 10th-graders are smoking today than four years ago. One out of five high school seniors is a daily smoker. We need to act, and we must act now, before another generation of Americans is condemned to fight a difficult and grueling personal battle with an addiction that will cost millions of them their lives.

Adults make their own decisions about whether or not to smoke. Relatively few people start to smoke past their teens. Many adults have quit; many have tried and failed. But we all know that teenagers are especially susceptible to pressures. Pressure to the manipulation of mass media advertising, the pressure of the seduction of skilled marketing campaigns aimed at exploiting their insecurities and uncertainties about life.

When Joe Camel tells young children that smoking is cool, when billboards tell teens that smoking will lead to true romance, when Virginia Slims tells adolescents that cigarettes may make them thin and glamorous, then our children need our wisdom, our guidance and our experience. We're their parents and it is up to us to protect them.

So today I am authorizing the Food and Drug Administration to initiate a broad series of steps all designed to stop sales and marketing of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to children. As a result, the following steps will be taken.

First, young people will have to prove their age with an I.D. card to buy cigarettes. Second, cigarette vending machines which circumvent any ban on sales to kids will be prohibited. Third, schools and playgrounds will be free of tobacco advertising on billboards in their neighborhoods. Fourth, images such as Joe Camel will not appear on billboards or in ads in publications that reach substantial numbers of children and teens. Fifth, teens won't be targeted by any marketing gimmicks, ranging from single cigarette sales to T-shirts, gym bags and sponsorship of sporting events. And, finally, the tobacco industry must fund and implement an annual $150-million campaign aimed at stopping teens from smoking through educational efforts.

Now, these are all common-sense steps. They don't ban smoking; they don't bar advertising. We do not, in other words, seek to address activities that seek to sell cigarettes only to adults. We are stepping in to protect those who need our help, our vulnerable young people. And the evidence of increasing smoking in the last few years is plain and compelling.

Now, nobody much likes government regulation. And I would prefer it if we could have done this in some other way. The only other way I can think of is if Congress were to write these restrictions into law. They could do that. And if they do, this rule could become unnecessary. But it is wrong to believe that we can take a voluntary approach to this problem. And absent congressional action, and in the presence of a massive marketing and lobbying campaign by cigarette companies aimed at our children, clearly, I have no alternative but to do everything I can to bring this assault to a halt.

The issue has touched all of us in personal ways. We all know friends or family members whose lives were shortened because of their involvement with tobacco. The Vice President's sister, a heavy smoker who started as a teen, died of lung cancer. It is that kind of pain that I seek to spare other families and young children. Less smoking means less cancer, less illness, longer lives -- a stronger America. Acting together we can make a difference. With this concerted plan targeted at those practices that especially prey upon our children, we can save lives, and we will.

To those who produce and market cigarettes, I say today, take responsibility for your actions. Sell your products only to adults. Draw the line on children. Show by your deeds as well as you words that you recognize that it is wrong as well as illegal to hook one million children a year on tobacco.

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