President Calls for Tobacco Legislation

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 20, 1998


South Lawn

10:25 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much. Firstof all, I'd like to thank Tara and Emily. There's really nothingmuch more to say after their presentations. They weren't so mutedand shy, I think we all got the point. Didn't you think they wereterrific? Give them another hand. I thought they were great. Thankyou. (Applause.)

I'd like to thank all the members of Congress who arehere. I think they were all mentioned except we missed CongressmanBorski who is in the first seat. No minister would do that in acongregation. (Laughter.) Thank you for being here, all of you.Thank you, Reverend Jackson. I thank the public health advocates whoare here. I thank the young people who are here, both behind me anda few out there in the audience. I thank the parents of our speakerswho came, and other parents who are here for what they have done.

I can't thank the Vice President enough for hislongstanding and absolutely passionate, indeed all-consuming interestin this issue. I think it would be fair to say -- he talked abouthow we looked at the issue and all the obstacles to it, and I wentahead. The people that had the most influence on me were the VicePresident, the First Lady and our daughter. And that was three -- ifthere were 300 million on the other side, the three would have amajority. So I thank them all, and especially the Vice President foryears and years and years of dedicated work on this issue.(Applause.)

This morning I was thinking that when I was the age of-- even younger than most of the people here in the audience, most ofthe children here, the biggest public health threat to us was polio.America went to work and conquered the disease, and I was actuallypart of the first group of children to be immunized against polio.

Today we all know our greatest public health threat toour children, and indeed to all Americans, are all the related thingsthat can happen to people who are addicted to tobacco. I was alittle older than most of the children here when the Surgeon Generalsounded an alarm that has grown louder, clearer, and more difficultto ignore every year -- the warning that smoking kills.

For a generation Americans of all ages and walks oflife, including young people just like those whom we honor heretoday, have answered that alarm by fighting tirelessly to conquerthis deadly threat to protect the health of our people. In the faceof very powerful opposition, our nation has actually won somevictories, both large and small, requiring all cigarette packages tocarry warning labels, prohibiting cigarette advertising on theairwaves, banning smoking on domestic airline flights. But today, westand on the verge of passing legislation that will do far more thananything we have every done to stop the scourge of youth smoking.

This week, as all of you know, the Senate is consideringhistoric, comprehensive, bipartisan legislation, proposed by SenatorMcCain and Senator Hollings. Over the last few weeks, we have workedvery hard with senators in both parties to strengthen this bill --protecting Americans from the dangers of secondhand smoke in publicbuildings, dramatically increasing health research, and funding anationwide advertising campaign to tell young people not to smoke,toughening look-back surcharges to make reducing youth smoking thetobacco companies' bottom line.

This bill includes a significant price increase todiscourage youth smoking and affirms the FDA's authority to regulatetobacco products. I hope that in the next few days, the Senate willmake sure we do everything we possibly can, also, to protect tobaccofarmers in their communities.

This bill is our best chance to protect the health ofour children, to keep them from getting hooked on cigarettes ever.It is a good, a strong bill. Congress should pass it and pass itnow. (Applause.) Let me also say that I believe the presence of theyoung people here and their active support of the Tobacco-Free Kidsmovement is absolutely critical. There are still cynics who saywell, this is not the kind of problem that requires this sort ofsolution. After all, nobody forces these people to start smoking.The young people here wearing their t-shirts, willing to look intothe eyes of the lawmakers, are a stunning rebuke to that kind ofcynicism. I thank them for saying no to tobacco and yes to their ownbright futures. (Applause.)

And I want to tell you that you may well be able to havea bigger impact on Capitol Hill than all the things that we say herein the White House on the remaining undecided voters. Our lawmakersmust not let this historic opportunity slip away under pressure frombig tobacco lobbying. I want you to go and see them. I know you'regoing to Capitol Hill -- when you're up there, I want you to askevery member of Congress to go home tonight and think about how theycan look you in the eye and say no to your future. (Applause.)

We now know from the release of previously classifieddocuments that for years the tobacco companies looked on you as --and I quote -- "the replacement smokers" of the 21st century. Buthere we have more than 1,000 unique children who cannot be replaced-- the scientists, the artists, the teachers, the Olympic champions,the engineers, the leaders, perhaps a future President in the 21stcentury. The rest of us have an obligation to see that thesechildren and all their counterparts in every community in our countryhave a chance to grow and live to the fullest of their God-givenabilities. That is what this bill is all about. This is more thanjust another bill in the legislature. This is more than aculmination of an historic fight between powerful political forces.We have no higher obligation than to give the young people we seehere today the brightest, best future we possibly can. That's whatthis bill is about. And we must pass it.

Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)

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