THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||April 20, 1998|
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT
The Rose Garden12:13 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Today, Congress returnsto work and to its obligation to act on the most critical publichealth threat to our children. Over the next five weeks, thisCongress has an historic opportunity to pass bipartisan comprehensivelegislation to protect our children from the dangers of tobacco. Wemust not let this opportunity slip away.
The facts are plain as the stakes are high: Threethousand children begin to smoke every day, even though it's illegalin every state, and 1,000 will die earlier because of it. All thesechildren have been targeted by a massive, multimillion-dollar mediacampaign that preys on their insecurities and their dreams.
For decades, we now know from their own documents thattobacco companies targeted children; and for decades, the industrydenied it. Now, the tobacco industry once again seeks to put itsbottom line above what should be our bottom line, the health of ourchildren. In today's newspaper, the lead lobbyist for the tobaccoindustry says, and I quote: "We are fighting for our life." Well,let me be clear: We are fighting for the lives of our children. Weare fighting for the public health, and we are fighting againstpredatory practices by tobacco companies that have targeted ourchildren.
In the days to come, the tobacco industry will doubtlessraise objection after objection and will work behind closed doors topersuade Congress to pass half measures that will not reduce teensmoking. But I believe the majority of the American people and,indeed, the majority of Congress, members of both parties inCongress, will see this for what it is -- a tobacco industry smokescreen.
I ask Congress and the American people to focus on thereal opportunity now within our reach. Over the next five weeks,Congress must move forward on comprehensive bipartisan legislation toreduce teen smoking by raising the price of cigarettes, putting intoplace tough restrictions on advertising, and access in imposingpenalties on the industry if it continues to sell cigarettes tochildren. We can do that and protect the tobacco farmers at the sametime.
The legislation now moving through the Senate, authoredby Senator McCain, which was voted out of committee on a nearlyunanimous bipartisan vote three weeks ago now is a strong step in theright direction. This is not a time for half measures; that simplywon't reduce teen smoking and it will only play into the tobaccoindustry's hands. It is a time for the kind of comprehensiveapproach to the problem that Senator McCain's legislation takes.
We have an opportunity and an obligation now to putaside politics, to turn aside the pleas of special interests, to actin the interest of the health of generations of our children. I callon Congress to do so, and I look forward to working with them in goodfaith over the next few weeks.
Q The suggestions that Speaker McCain -- rather not,McCain -- pardon me.
THE PRESIDENT: Is he running for speaker?
Q No, but perhaps he should. Speaker Gingrich wantsto water down the bill and House Republicans; there have been thosesuggestions. What's your reading of Speaker Gingrich's position andwhat position should he take?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say, before his recentcomments I had been encouraged, because he basically said that hewould not permit us to take a stronger position than he did. I wasconcerned by his reported comments; you know, I wasn't here in thecountry, I didn't hear them, I didn't see the context of them. But Icertainly hope that he will return to his former position.
We need this to be a bipartisan effort. We needeverybody working together. And we can do this. We can work throughall of the differences that are out there, and we can pass a billthat will clearly, dramatically reduce teen smoking. We can do it.And we've got fresh evidence from the Journal of the American MedicalAssociation, showing that the role of advertising on children andtheir smoking habits has been even greater than peer pressure. We'vegot all this evidence out there and we know what to do, we know howto do it, we can do it. And I'm just hoping and praying that wewill.