President Clinton Speaks To National Association of Attorneys

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 12, 1998


The Washington Court Hotel
Washington, D.C.

11:16 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Attorney GeneralDoyle. Attorney General Reno, thank you for joining us here todayand for the work you have done with the states' attorneys general andlocal prosecutors on domestic violence and to reduce the crime rateand a whole host of other issues. I want to thank Fred Duval for thework he does on my behalf with you and this association. And I'dalso like to thank the two former attorneys general that are workingfor me -- Bonnie Campbell, who heads the Attorney General's effort onviolence against women; and Chuck Burson, who was formerly presidentof NAAG, now the Vice President Counsel.

I've really been looking forward to coming over heretoday. I have had the opportunity to know and work with most of youpersonally, and I see some former attorneys general out in theaudience who were my colleagues and friends. I thank them for beinghere.

It used to be a staple of all my speeches that the bestjob I ever had was being an attorney general, and to me it was. Ididn't have to hire or fire anybody -- (laughter ) -- except thepeople on the staff. I didn't have to appoint or disappoint anybody.(Laughter.) Every unpopular thing I did I blamed on theConstitution. (Laughter.) Now I'm just a punching bag from time totime -- (laughter) -- who's grateful to have an Attorney General.It's a very interesting thing. (Laughter and applause.)

On a more serious note, I loved the job that you nowhold. And I suspect that I ran for it for the same reason you did --I wanted to protect families and consumers and enforce the law. Andyou have been very strong allies of our administration and goodpartners in those endeavors, and I thank you for that very much. Inmany ways, we are still colleagues -- whether it's on domesticviolence or reducing crime or giving our young people a more positivefuture.

Now we're working together to bring our country to theverge of one of the greatest public health achievements in thehistory of our nation -- a historic triumph in our fight to protectour children from the deadly threat of tobacco. Together we havewaged a great struggle in the courts, in the Congress, across thenegotiation tables and in our communities, where our children havebeen the targets of mass-marketing schemes and where you have been onthe front lines to protect them from this effort to get them involvedin addiction to tobacco.

We've made a lot of great strides in just a few years.And whenever I talk to any of you who are involved in this, naturallyenough, we're always talking about what the present state of play isand what all the various issues are and what's going to happentomorrow or what happened yesterday. And we can talk about that somemore, too. But what I'd like to do is take just a few moments to seehow far we've come and then to visualize the outcome that I believewe will achieve -- first, to look back and see why we ever took onthe tobacco companies in the first place when, when some of you filedyour suits it was laughable -- people said it was a fight that wasunwinnable; and, second, to look ahead to the end of the day -- whatwe have to do to win the fight, to ensure a healthier, strongerAmerica for our children in the new century.

We are poised to enter this new century stronger than wehave been in decades. This is a great moment for our country, fullof opportunity. We have the lowest unemployment rate in 24 years,the lowest inflation rate in 30 years, the highest home ownership inhistory, smallest welfare rolls in 27 years, the lowest crime rate in24 years. It is a great moment of opportunity.

We have a chance to open vistas of peace and prosperityand freedom that our people have never before known. Because most ofthe next century will belong to our children and grandchildreninstead of to ourselves, we, all of us together, have worked theselast five years to give them a future of safety, health and security.We've done a lot of specific things in addition to the economic andcrime and welfare statistics that I talked about. Here in Washingtonwe have worked with many of you to implement a zero tolerance policyto keep guns and drugs out of schools. The v-chip and the televisionratings and educational television have helped parents to strengthenthe values as well as the minds of our children.

We've worked to bring order and discipline to ourchildren's lives by supporting community reform efforts like curfews,school uniforms, tougher truancy laws; and to bring hope into theirlives by supporting higher educational standards and keeping schoolsopen after hours, because, as all of you know, most juvenile crime iscommitted when the school doors close for the day, but before theparents get home from work. We've worked to support communityservice, from America Reads to AmeriCorps to America's Challenge.And now we're helping to get millions of uninsured children thehealth insurance they need.

This is a moment of great opportunity, but also of greatobligation. And we have to build on this powerful momentum to makethe future we want for our children. To me, that's the mostimportant thing that you are doing in the tobacco litigation.

It is so easy in good times to relax, but you and I bothknow that the world is changing so rapidly that whatever is happeningtoday, there will be something different happening tomorrow. Thesheer volume of knowledge is doubling every five years now. We areliterally, because of human genome research we are literally solvingproblems in a matter of days that took years to solve not long beforeI took office. The worldwide web is growing by something like 65,000web sites an hour now. When I took office, there were 50 --(laughter) -- 50. Think about that. Just a little over five yearsago the web was the province of a handful of scientists, physicists,started by a government research project in the Defense Department.The government, quite properly, having done the basic research andgetting it up and going, got out of the way, and now it's the fastestgrowing organ of human interaction ever, in all of human history.

I say that again to hammer home the fact that whenpeople have confidence because times are good, but leaders know timesare changing, there is a heavier than normal responsibility to do thehard things for tomorrow. That is why it is so important that youhave engaged this tobacco issue. I cannot overstate it. You knowquite well that smoking kills more people every day than AIDS,alcohol, auto accidents, murders, suicides, drugs and fires combined;and that nearly 90 percent of smokers lit their first cigarettebefore they turned 18. David Kessler, the former FDA Commissioner,called smoking a pediatric disease. Today and every day, 3,000children start smoking illegally; and 1,000 will have their livesshortened as a result. This is a national epidemic. It is anational tragedy. We must struggle to end it until we prevail.

Just last month, the Journal of the American MedicalAssociation concluded that advertisements and promotions were evenmore crucial than peer pressure in getting teens to start smoking.Now, the law says that they can't advertise tobacco products ontelevision or radio, but you can't escape the ads anywhere else -- inour magazines, our sports centers, on billboards. Tobacco is one ofthe most heavily advertised products in America.

In the early 1990s, Joe Camel alone had an advertisingbudget of $75 million. He could have run for President. (Laughter.)And that's a pretty good investment from the tobacco companies' pointof view. More 3- to 6-year-olds can recognize Joe Camel than MickeyMouse.

The advertisements have taken a deadly toll. That's whyyou began to bring your lawsuits. That's why in 1995 I launched anationwide effort to prevent our tobacco companies from advertisingto children, to educate children about the dangers of smoking, toreduce children's access to tobacco products. Working with the FDA,we made it the law of the land essentially what was already the lawin your states -- no sale of products to anyone under 18, required IDshowings for anyone under 27 to make sure teens don't buy cigarettes.And I'm very proud that last year the courts upheld this authority.

Without the foresight and courage and determination ofthe attorneys general the progress would not have occurred.You put tobacco companies on the stand in courtrooms across America.You brought them to the bargaining table; you extracted importantconcessions. You raised awareness of tobacco's tragic cost to oureconomy and our children. You got documents out that needed to beout. Your work has been essential and the American people owe you aneternal debt of gratitude.

The worst part of this epidemic is that it isn't theproduct of deadly natural forces raging out of control, but asophisticated, deliberate marketing campaign targeted at ourchildren. I don't know how many of you saw it over the weekend, butthere was a story that I saw on at least two different networks aboutthis deadly virus that gets into small rats in the Southwest, andbecause of El Nino and the warming, the area of influence of thislittle animal is larger. And the couple of hundred people that havegotten this infection from the mice, the small mice, in the last fouryears -- the fatality rate has been 50 percent.

We spend a lot of time in our administration trying tomake sure that the National Institutes of Health and the CDC has theinvestment they need both to do the research and then to set up themechanisms to deal with the spread of disease. And as more and moreof us travel to faraway places, and more and more people from farawayplaces travel to us, and we meet strangers in the airport, one of thegreat challenges of the 21st century will be the spread of disease.One of the things that global warming has done is to raise mosquitoesbearing malaria to higher and higher altitudes now, so more and morepeople are exposed to it. Then they travel and more and more peoplecome in contact with it. There is now an actual public healthphenomenon called airport malaria.

I'm saying that not to scare you -- we'll figure out howto handle it, we'll deal with it -- (laughter) -- but the point isthat this is what we ought to be worried about. That is we ought tobe worried about those things that are arising out of the naturalcourse of events over which we have no control, that require a publichealth response. We should not have to worry about things that arethe deliberate result of calculated decisions to make money. Weshouldn't do that. (Applause.)

If it hadn't been for your efforts we might have had towait another 30 years for the documents that have confirmed our worstsuspicions. You did that. For years we've known cigarette makersstudy kids' habits and tastes, preying on them with targetedmarketing. Joe Camel t-shirts, Virginia Slims rock concerts, toyrace cars emblazoned with tobacco company logos -- the free giveawaystell the tale.

Just last year some tobacco companies wanted to marketwhat some called a kiddie-pack -- smaller, more affordable packs ofcigarettes, sort of a starter kit. And I was in a community lastweek in which a person concerned about this told me that more andmore cigarettes were being sold to children one by one, for a quarterapiece.

Now, as the documents are released, we begin to learnthe whole story. In an internal document, one company proudlydescribed it's brand as, "the brand of choice among teenagers."Another described its plan to flavor cigarettes with apples, honey orCoca-cola because, "it's a well-known fact that teenagers like sweetproducts." Another company memorandum put it even more bluntly --the 14 to 24 age group, it says, "represent tomorrow's cigarettebusiness." And tomorrow's Medicare and Medicaid bills and hospitalwards and premature funerals.

This avalanche of evidence is bringing down the walls ofdeceit. Now we know the facts. Now you have acted. Now Congressmust act. Congress must pass comprehensive tobacco legislation thatgets the industry out of the business of marketing cigarettes to ourchildren. Thirty years of deception -- now Congress must act tobring it to an end. Thirty years of manipulation -- Congress mustnow act to bring it to an end. And it must act now. (Applause.)

Most Americans have 200 days left in their work calendarthis year. But the work calendar schedule in Washington is only 68days -- partly because it's an election year, partly because ofthings that are scheduled for holidays, partly because members dohave to go home, legitimately, and work in their home states anddistricts. I say that to say 68 days is not a lot left this year,but it's more than enough to get this job done. The attorneysgeneral have proved that this is not an issue of party, but an issueof principle. It's not an issue that divides America, but one thatcan unite us.

I was in Utah the other day -- not exactly the strongestDemocratic state in America. (Laughter.) And I was with SenatorBennett and Governor Leavitt and the two House members, and I said,it's wonderful that I'm here in Utah with my family just as thistobacco fight is opening; it's the only issue I can think of that allof Utah is to the left of me on. (Laughter.) And praise the Lordfor the Mormon Church. (Laughter.)

But it's a funny story, but it illustrates a veryserious and sober point. This is an American issue. This is notabout politics. Believe me, there is a solid majority of Congress inboth Houses, comprised of members of both parties, who want to dothis and do this right. Now, it's a complicated issue -- there arecomplicated questions of the jurisdiction in the Congress, whichcommittees and subcommittees should have this piece or that piece ofthe legislation. A lot of people are having trouble with how youwork out the future liability of the tobacco companies, and how muchto give up in return for the advertising fix that we want, whichotherwise may not prevail in the courts. You know, there are allthese questions out there.

But what I want to tell you is that we can do this. Andyou have to help us do this. You have to go to the Congress and say,a thousand kids a day is too high a price to pay for another year'sdelay. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you very much. I think weshould say clearly and simply that Congress should not go home untilit passes comprehensive tobacco legislation. This is one thing thathas to be done this year. (Applause.)

Now, I have said I would support any comprehensivebipartisan legislation if it meets five principles: I believe itmust raise the price of cigarettes by up to $1.50 a pack over thenext decade and impose tough penalties on companies that continue tosell to kids. It must reaffirm the FDA's authority to regulatetobacco products. It must get the tobacco companies out of thebusiness of marketing to our children. It must further our otherpublic health goals and it must protect the tobacco farmers and theircommunities. And I take it we're all agreed on that; I think that isvery important.

Today, I'm happy to report that Senators John Chafee,Bob Graham and Tom Harkin are introducing the first bipartisan billthat meets all five of these principles, and I strongly support theireffort. It is a good, tough bill. I hope it gets wide support. Theevidence is clearer than ever that this legislation will save lives.We have now a recent study that says if Congress acts, we can cutteen smoking by almost half in the next five years alone. That meanswe can stop almost 3 million children from beginning. That means wecan prevent almost 1 million premature deaths.

Again, I say, sure, there will be important issues to beworked out, even among allies. Even among yourselves, you have toworry about that. I know that. But if you decide that you have toact, then you figure out a way to work out the issues. This 30-yearstruggle also, I will say, is not about money. There are some budgetand spending issues in Congress between me and the Democrats and theRepublicans -- three or four or five different ideas. But if we justremember this is not about money, it's not about the size of theprize we can extract from the tobacco industry, it is aboutfulfilling our responsibilities to our children -- as parents, as agovernment, as a nation.

You have shown enormous courage and foresight in helpingus get where we are today. Again, I would say, in the heat of themoment do not forget how far we have come. If someone had told mejust a couple of years ago we would be here today, hardly a one ofyou would have believed it. Be proud of what you have done, butbring all your influence to bear on the Congress. It's not aquestion of party, it's a matter of principle. And it will have avery great deal to do with what your country looks like when yourchildren are sitting where you are today.

Thank you very much, and God bless you. (Applause.)

What's New - March 1998

National Association of Attorneys

Medicare Commission Members

California Disaster Relief Efforts

Carpenters Joint Apprenticeship Training

Prime Minister of Thailand

First Woman Space Shuttle Commander

Irresponsible Tax Reform

School Safety Event

Health Care Commission Report

Unemployment at Lowest Level

Ratify NATO Enlargement

Promote Science And Math

Health Care For American Families

Springbrook High School

Quality Child Care

UN Secretary General Annan

Social Security Discussion

Irish Prime Minister Ahern

Targeted Medicare Expansion

Action To Reduce Drunk Driving

Violence Against Women

St. Patrick's Day Reception

Legislation Ensuring Food Safety

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