THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||April 27, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON SURGEON GENERAL'S REPORT
The South Lawn
2:00 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Dr. Satcher, forthe exceptional report. I thank all those who worked on it. Mr.Vice President, Secretary Shalala, thank you for your long andconstant fidelity to this cause. Thank you, Senator Frist, for beinghere, for demonstrating that it is a medical, not a political issue,and an American, not a partisan issue. You gave us a two-fer today,and we thank you for that. You were great. Thank you. (Applause.)
I also thank Senator Hatch and Senator Chafee for beinghere, all the members of the House of Representatives. I thank theleaders of the Native American tribes who are here. I especiallythank the attorneys general who are here. They had a lot to do withbeginning this long struggle to free our children from tobacco, andthey deserve a lot of the credit for the efforts that are now goingon. And I'd like to thank the young people who are standing behindme and those whom they represent, all across America, in the Campaignfor Tobacco-Free Youth. They represent the future we are trying topreserve. (Applause.)
This report gives us fresh evidence that those of us inthis society who are adults, and especially those of us who areparents, are not doing our jobs very well. Any of us who have everbeen parents know that our most profound and instinctive urge is toprotect our children from danger so that they can grow up healthy,safe and secure.
Just today I was talking before I came in here with amember of the House who was at our previous event, and he was talkingabout a young staff member of his who was dealing with a serioushealth problem. And he choked up, he couldn't even finish theconversation. And he's a good person with a good heart, but thatreflects the natural human response we have to protect our ownchildren and all those who are of the younger generation fromwhatever dangers we can in the hope that they will have theopportunity to live full, good lives.
Well, we've done a good job over the years of strappingour kids into seatbelts and cars and safety seats. We do a prettygood job of bundling up children against the winter cold; not many ofthem die of pneumonia anymore. We make sure that they get to schoolsafely each day. But we haven't done what we should in wrapping theprotective arm of parents and other adults in our society as a wholearound them when it comes to resisting advertising, peer pressure, orwhatever other forces get young people into smoking, even though it'sillegal to sell cigarettes to children in every state in the UnitedStates.
We know that today about a third of our children aresmoking. The report issued by Dr. Satcher shows that more and moreare becoming hooked on cigarettes. Smoking rates are up among teensof all backgrounds, but now we see especially among Hispanics, Native
Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, and especially -- and mostdramatically -- among African Americans, where the rates used to bedramatically lower than the average.
These are children just starting out in life -- they'vegot enough challenges as it is. We ought to do more to clear theway, to assure them the best possible chance at the future of theirdreams. Instead, they are still becoming the targets of highlysophisticated marketing campaigns. They are the "replacementsmokers" of the advertisers' strategy. But they are our children andwe can't replace them.
The call to action should be getting louder. Congresshas a very important opportunity to build on the work done by theattorneys general, the representatives of individuals who have beenharmed in smoking, and others -- the work of the FDA -- to pass acomprehensive, bipartisan tobacco bill that will cut teensmoking by raising the price of cigarettes, putting intoplace tough restrictions on advertising and access, imposing strongpenalties on those who continue to sell cigarettes to children,ensuring the FDA has the authority it needs to regulate tobaccoproducts, protecting farmers and farming communities, and, yes, doingwhat Dr. Satcher says we still need to do -- continuing to investmore in research to find out the answers that we don't have yet inthis regard.
A bill sponsored by Senator McCain and voted out of thecommittee with all but one vote -- a unanimous vote save one -- is agood step in that direction, because it explicitly changes the rulesof the game to make it much harder for the tobacco industry to profitat the expense of our children's health.
I want to say a special word of thanks, too, to SenatorFrist, because he's worked so hard to make sure that the billprovides the FDA with the authority it needs to continue to covertobacco products.
Now, folks, the Surgeon General has just issued hisfirst report. It's a fine report. It's a compelling report. It isobviously compelling to the leaders of the groups from whom thesechildren come, because they have come here. We know what the dangeris. We know what the remedy is. They're just kids; we're thegrown-ups. Now, if we know what the danger is and we know what theremedy is, are we going to do what it takes to save their lives andtheir health and their future, or not? It is as simple as that.This is not rocket science. (Applause.)
I have been profoundly moved by the extent to which thisreally has become an issue about health, not politics; an issue aboutour children, not partisan differences. Every step along the way wehave been able to reach across party lines, we've been able to putaside rhetoric, we've been able to try to look to the health issue ofour children.
Now, I know there are some complexities surrounding thisissue. There are complexities: How much money should be raised?How should it be spent? How should we assure the continuingjurisdiction of the FDA? Exactly what are the nature of theadvertising restrictions? There are complicated questions. But myexperience now, after many, many years in public life, is that allthe complicated questions get much simpler if you focus on the bigissue.
The big issue is that the children behind us deserve tohave a future, and we know that unless we do something to stop themfrom being treated as replacement smokers, their future will berestricted. That is the big issue. We know what the problem is, weknow what to do about it. I suggest that these children -- you lookat them, look at all those they represent, look at those who don'tyet have the good sense to put their t-shirts on and join theircrusades -- and it becomes pretty clear that we need to take thisvery first report by our latest distinguished Surgeon General and dothe right thing with the report and for our children.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)