President Clinton Challenges Teens to Stop Smoking

Office of the Press Secretary
(Carrollton, Kentucky)

For Immediate Release April 9, 1998


Carroll County High School
Carrollton, Kentucky

1:14 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much.(Applause.)Now, Jackie was a little nervous before she came up, but I think she did agreat job, don't you? (Applause.) She mentioned your other twoclassmates,Marissa and Josh, who were over at the other meeting at the Warehouse --theywere also very, very good, and you could have been very proud of them.

I could have done without Jackie reminding me that Kentuckybeat Arkansas not once, not twice, but three times this year. (Applause).

But I cheered for you anyway in the tournament. (Laughter.)

And let me say, I'm delighted to be here with my goodfriends,Governor Patton and Senator Ford, and I thank them for their leadership foryou and for all of Kentucky. I thank Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickmanfor coming down here with me today, and for being here last week and forhistireless work for the farmers of America.

I thank Congressman Scotty Baesler for flying down herewithme today and also bending my ears about the needs of farmers in thecommunities; and Lt. Governor Henry; your Auditor Edward Hatchett; SenatorSaunders; Senator Blevins; Speaker Jodie Richards and Mayor Welty, andJudgeMcMurry. I thank all of them for being here with me.

I thank your superintendent and your principal forwelcomingme to your school. And I'd also like to thank the people, in addition tothestudents who were mentioned, who met with me over at the tobacco warehouseafew moments ago to discuss both this community's desire to preventteenagersfrom smoking and to preserve the way of life for the tobacco farmers andtheirfamilies. And I'd just like to acknowledge them -- they're over here --Melvin Lyons, the owner of the Kentuckian Tobacco Warehouse; Rod Kuegel,thePresident of the BurleyTobacco Growers Cooperative; Amy Barkley, the Director of theCoalition for Health and Agricultural Development; Mattie Mack, atobacco farmer who has raised four children and 38 fosterchildren on her tobacco farm; Bill Sprague, the President of theKentucky Farm Bureau; Dr. Goatley, the pastor of the FirstBaptist Church of Eminence, Kentucky; and Marissa, Josh -- youall stand up, all of you. Thank you very much for being here forus today. Thank you. (Applause.)

I'd also like to say a special word of appreciationto the Vice President of Humana, David Jones, who was part of thePresident's Summit on Citizen Service last April in Philadelphiaand has committed $2 million and 50,000 community service hoursto help stop tobacco use by children. Thank you very much.(Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, before I get into my speech, Ineed to say a few words about the terrible losses suffered by ourneighbors in Alabama and Georgia as a result of the tornados thatswept through there last night. If you've been looking at thetelevision, you've seen how awful it has been. Today, I amdeclaring a major disaster in three Alabama counties: Jefferson,Sinclair, and Tuscaloosa, adding to the number of countiesalready declared in the state of Georgia, and ordering morefederal aid to those areas. I have spoken to our FEMA director,James Lee Witt, and I've asked Mr. Witt and our, Vice PresidentAl Gore, to go down to Alabama and Georgia tomorrow to look atthe damage.

But if you have been seeing it on television, it'squite amazing, and I hope you'll all say a prayer for those folkstonight and join with them in spirit as they begin to rebuild.

Speaking of rebuilding, it's good to see how youhave recovered from the flood of '97, when Eagle Creek and theKentucky River were spilling out all over this county. It's agreat moment of resilience for Kentucky and a golden moment forour country. Communities all across America are thriving. Wehave the strongest economy in a generation; the lowestunemployment rate in 25 years; the lowest inflation in 30 years;the highest rate of home ownership in the entire history ofAmerica. We have the lowest crime rate in 24 years, and crimehas gone down five years in a row for the first time since the1950s, when even I was younger than most of you in this audience.We have the lowest welfare rolls in 27 years. Things are goingin a good direction in this country.

We've tried to open the doors of college to allAmericans. Now, all of you students, your families can get a$1,500 a year tax credit for the first two years of collegetuition and tax credits for the junior and senior year forgraduate school, for adults who have to go back to school, abetter student loan program, more work-study grants, more PellGrants.

I think it's really possible for us to say to everyyoung person in America, for the first time in the history ofthis country if you will work hard and make your grades and youwant to go to college, money should now not keep you from going.We have opened the doors of college to all Americans.(Applause.)

I understand that the chemical and steel industrieshere in Carroll County are booming and virtually guaranteeingjobs to students who are involved in your remarkable work-studyprogram, and getting the essential math, science, and technicalskills you need.

Today, as all of you know, I came here to talk aboutthe urgent national need to deal with the problem of more andmore of our young people beginning to smoke, even though it'sillegal to sell cigarettes to minors in every state in thecountry, and to talk about how that could impact the future oftobacco -- tobacco farmers and tobacco communities.

I know there has been a lot of discussion in thisarea, and indeed all over Kentucky, about what this tobaccolegislation in Congress involves and where we are in the process.So today I came here, first, to listen to the concerns of thepeople that I introduced over there, who were trying to speak ina way for all of you, and, second, to tell you where I thinkwe're going with this.

But let me begin by making three points. First, wehave an historic opportunity to pass bipartisan legislation thisyear which both contains the elements necessary to reduce teensmoking in America and provides adequate protection for tobaccocommunities. And I'm going to do everything I can to putpolitics aside and pass legislation that will achieve thatobjective.

Second, the legislation we seek is not aboutpolitics or money or Senator Ford seeking revenge on the tobaccoindustry. I don't want to put the tobacco companies out ofbusiness. I do want to put them out of the business of sellingcigarettes to teenagers. (Applause.)

Third, it is important not to abandon the tobaccofarmers, the warehouses, the communities, who have not doneanything wrong, who have not marketed cigarettes to teenagers,who have worked hard to grow and sell a legal crop and been good,honest, taxpaying citizens. I will not support any legislationin this area that does not contain adequate protection for yourfarmers and your communities. (Applause.)

You know, when the flood waters were rising out ofcontrol here, not only you, but all of your fellow citizens allacross America just took it as a given that we had a nationalresponsibility to help you deal with the flood and its aftermathand get back to normal.

When the terrible earthquake hit California, and yousaw pictures of our representatives going to California to try tohelp those folks restore normal life, and spending a lot of moneyto rebuild their highways and rebuild one great university outthere, I'll bet you hardly anybody in Kentucky resented the factthat the national government was helping them.

When the Mississippi overflowed its banks a fewyears ago and we had a 500-year flood, most people in Kentucky, Ibet anything, did not object to the work we did to try to helpthe people in Iowa and Missouri.

Last year, when that town in North Dakota, thatbeautiful little town, was both flooded and burned at the sametime, I bet all of us were pulling for the Mayor up there and thecitizens and glad to help.

When we have big economic upheavals, we must do thesame thing. So if we succeed in reducing -- here's the bottomline, if we succeed in reducing teen smoking, then sooner orlater we will reduce the overall demand for tobacco. Can we dothat and still do right by the families who grow tobacco, by thewarehouses, by the communities? I think the answer to that isyes. And that's what the legislation has to do, so let medescribe it -- because otherwise, you can't say, oh, I'm forreducing teen smoking, but I don't want you to do anything aboutit.

By definition, if you reduce teen smoking, thevolume will go down. Let's not pretend just because I'm inKentucky that this is an easy problem. There's no point inpretending something is true that isn't. If you reduce teenagesmoking, as is the right thing to do morally and from a healthpoint of view and the law requires, it will reduce, sooner orlater, the overall volume of tobacco required. How can you dothat and be fair to the tobacco farmers and their communities.That is the issue here.

Now, I think we can do it. But, first of all, youhave to decide if you think it's important. Everybody says it,but do you believe that? Just last week, the Center for DiseaseControl in Atlanta released a disturbing report that found thatmore than 40 percent of American teenagers now smoke or chewtobacco. Now, the law says that tobacco companies can'tadvertise tobacco products on television or radio, but the adsare everywhere else -- in magazines, sport arenas, billboards,toy race cars, something not many adults buy. Not long ago, anational survey showed more young children recognized Joe Camelthan Mickey Mouse.

Today, and every day, about 3,000 young people beginto smoke, and the evidence is conclusive that 1,000 of the 3,000will have their lives shortened as a result. Now, one of thethings that has poisoned the political atmosphere is that thetobacco companies -- nobody has any animosity against the farmers-- but for years and years and years, the companies denied thatthey were marketing to children until all of these lawsuits werefiled and the information was drug out. And now every month,there's a new set of information which shows that not only werethey knowingly advertising in a way that was especially appealingto children, but that they were direct-marketing campaignsdesigned to get people involved before they were 18 to keep thenumber of cigarette smokers high.

Now, that has come out. It wasn't volunteered, itwasn't told, it's been pulled out. And that has created thisclimate that exists in Washington and has resulted in all theselawsuits being filed.

What I want to do is to say, look, what's past ispast, but what we want to do is to do all the things necessary tostop advertising and marketing tobacco to kids; to do things thatwill actually reduce teen smoking so more of you will livelonger, better, healthier lives; and to do it in a way thatprotects the tobacco farmers in the communities -- and again Isay, doesn't put the tobacco companies out of business, just getsthem out of the business of selling to children. (Applause.)

Now, last week, a key Senate committee on whichSenator Ford sits approved by 19 to 1 sponsored by John McCain, aRepublican, and Senator Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, aDemocrat, that we believe would cut teen smoking by half over thenext decade. And thanks to Senator Ford's leadership, itcontained provisions which will do what I said we have to do --it also protects tobacco farmers and their communities.

It recognizes that a lot of what people have beensaying to tobacco farmers for years is just unrealistic -- "well,why don't you just go grow some other crop on the land?" Thereis no other crop that has anything like the same return per acrethat tobacco does, and most tobacco farmers have small plots oftobacco, earning quite a high yield per acre.

What does it do? It offers, first of all, a verygenerous buy-out for people that want to stop producing now --very generous -- so that they can have more than enough money tospend the investment doing something else to generate income.

Secondly, it says that if, over time, there isfurther reduction in demand, it provides more funds to helpwarehouses, communities, and provide very generous educationbenefits to people who are involved in the work.

And the third thing it does is to preserve theexisting program for people who stay in it so that there willfinally be some certainty instead of all the uncertainty that'sbeen hanging over the families and communities like this one forso many years. The president of your State Farm Bureau said themost important thing we need now is to have legislation passedthis year that will reduce teen smoking but will give thesefarmers and their families and their communities some certainty.That is what we want to do. (Applause.)

Yesterday, for whatever reasons, some of the tobaccoexecutives indicated that they might not participate anymore innegotiating this bill, either because they think the bill thatpassed out of the Senate committee was too hard, or becausethey're afraid it'll get worse -- I don't know exactly what. Iwill say this, we have to have some financial incentives on themto in fact reduce the rate of teen smoking; otherwise we willhave done all this for nothing. I'm not just trying to raise abunch of money to raise money, or to raise the price ofcigarettes. The goal is to make America's children healthier.(Applause.)

And so I hope they will reconsider, because I'mdetermined to get this done this year. I heard today that thepeople here in this county do not want any more uncertainty.They want us to act. It would be better if we could act with thetobacco companies at the table too, so we're all talkingtogether, so we're all sharing our information, so we all atleast agree on the facts if we don't agree on the solutions. SoI hope they'll reconsider and become a part of this. But we'regoing to do this, this year. If I can control the outcome, wewill actually act this year.

I don't think this is a time for threats by anybody.This is a time to put the past behind us, look ahead to thefuture, and achieve all these objectives. If we move forwardwith the legislation in the Senate and it does what it's supposedto do, it will stop about 60,000 children a year in Kentucky frombeginning to use tobacco over the next five years. That meansthat 20,000 children a year in this state will live longer,healthier, fuller lives. I think that's worth the effort.(Applause.)

Let me also say, Mattie Mack, the farmer I mentionedwho raised her own children and 38 foster children, gave me apretty good little lecture about the responsibility of the peoplewho buy or receive tobacco products and their parents, and thatwe shouldn't put all this on the sellers. And so I say to all ofyou students, I hope that you are taking responsibility for yourown future, and if you haven't started smoking, I hope you won't.I don't believe that the Wildcats could have left all of theiropponents gasping for breath, could have come from behindrepeatedly to win the tournament, if their lungs had beenincapacitated. And I don't think you do either. (Applause.)

Again, I want to encourage you also to work witheach other. I have a young friend here who's from anothercommunity in Kentucky who has become a pen-pal of mine -- hername is Meghan Johnson -- stand up, Meghan. She's a 7th-graderfrom Madison County, Kentucky. (Applause.) And she's beenwriting me very interesting letters for the last few years. Andso now, when one of Meghan's letters comes in, everybody in theoffice clamors to read it because she always says somethingrather unconventional and interesting. Like so many of you, inher youth she is brutally honest about whatever it is she'swriting about.

She's taken a big stand against tobacco in hercommunity. After seeing two people close to her stricken withcancer, she and some of her friends decided to produce a videoand a poster to help convince every student in her middle schoolunderstand the dangers of smoking.

And Meghan and all of you young people here todayare the future of your state and our nation. If you want to dothis and do it right, we can do it. We don't have to wreck thefabric of life in your community. We don't have to rob honestpeople of their way of life. But, even in tobacco country, wecan't deny what the scientists have told us or what has been doneto market tobacco to children in ways that compromise theirfuture. To me, no company's bottom line is important compared toAmerica's bottom line -- America's bottom line should be yourlife, your future, your health. And for me, that's what it is.

Thank you. (Applause.)

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