Clinton: 'Disturbing' Documents Make Tobacco Legislation 'Absolutely Imperative'
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 15) -- President Bill Clinton today termed new documents detailing R.J. Reynolds' efforts to sell cigarettes to children "disturbing news." The president said it was "absolutely imperative" that Congress get moving on legislation codifying the settlement between state attorneys general and the tobacco industry.
"I want to say a few words about the disturbing news that a major tobacco company appears to have targeted children to encourage them to begin smoking," Clinton told reporters on the South Lawn before boarding a helicopter.
"The documents that came to light today show more than ever why it's absolutely imperative that Congress take action now to get tobacco companies out of the business of marketing cigarettes to children," he said.
"Reducing teen smoking has always been America's bottom line, and that's this administration's bottom line. Now it should become the industry's bottom line," Clinton said.
"I'm confident that every member of Congress, without regard to party, who reviews these documents will resolve to make 1998 the year we actually pass comprehensive legislation to protect our children and the public health," the president said.
On Wednesday, California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman released a cache of documents from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company spanning 1973 to 1990.
The papers show the plain language Reynolds executives used in discussing marketing cigarettes to those younger than 18. They stress the importance of getting smokers to commit at an early age -- as early as 14, according to Waxman, though the company denies this -- to a specific brand of cigarette based on the belief that their first choice will be a lasting one.
White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry told reporters, "If anything, the release of these documents makes the White House even more optimistic that Congress will move quickly to address the health-care risks that young people face because of tobacco use and nicotine addiction."
In a 1974 presentation to the board of directors of RJR's parent company, RJR's marketing vice president, C.A. Tucker, said the "young adult market... represent(s) tomorrow's cigarette business. As this 14-24 age group matures, they will account for a key share of the total cigarette volume -- for at least the next 25 years."
A 1975 memo on Camel Filter cigarettes says that "to ensure increased and longer term growth for Camel Filter, the brand must increase its share penetration among the 14-24 age group, which have a new set of more liberal values and which represents tomorrow's cigarette business."
In February 1973, one RJR senior researcher, Dr. Claude Teague, said, "Realistically, if our Company is to survive and prosper, over the long term we must get our share of the youth market." The memo was entitled, "Some Thoughts About New Brands of Cigarettes for the Youth Market."
It was at this point in the 1970s, that RJR developed its Joe Camel campaign. After test marketing success in France, it was moved to the United States in the mid-80s. Camels eventually became the third most popular cigarette among teen-agers.
The report says, by the 1980s, RJR was "convinced that obtaining the cigarette business of underage smokers was critical to its future survival."
"If you are looking for a smoking gun regarding youth smoking, you need to look no further," former FDA head David Kessler told Reuters Wednesday.
"There should be no deals with this industry. There should be tobacco legislation but no deals. Not when this conduct has been displayed," said Kessler, now dean of Yale University's medical school.
Meanwhile, House Commerce Committee chairman Thomas Bliley said Wednesday he has asked five top tobacco executives to testify before his committee Jan. 29 about the proposed tobacco legislation.
RJR issued a statement later Wednesday denying any of the documents were to be "used for marketing strategy purposes" but only for "planning and projection purposes."