Clinton Pushes A Bipartisan Tobacco Bill
Curbing teen smoking requires action this year, he says
WASHINGTON (March 12) -- President Bill Clinton, again accusing the tobacco industry of deliberately targeting teenagers in its marketing and lying about it, Thursday called on Congress to approve bipartisan tobacco legislation before it adjourns this year.
"Thirty years of deception -- now Congress must act to bring
it to an end," Clinton said. "Thirty years of manipulation -- Congress must now act to bring it to an end."
If Congress acts, Clinton predicted, it could cut teen smoking by almost half over the next five years and prevent almost one million
Clinton said a new bipartisan Senate bill meets his requirements and urged quick action.
The measure, sponsored by Sens. John Chafee (R-R.I.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Bob Graham (D-Fla.), would raise the price of cigarettes by $1.50 a pack over two years. And significantly, it would cap the tobacco industry's legal liability at $8 billion a year.
The Chafee-Harkin-Graham bill is the first embraced by the White House that includes legal protections for the tobacco industry. The president has said such protections do not need to be part of comprehensive tobacco legislation. But the industry says it needs such protections, and the president has said including them would not be a deal-breaker for him.
"It is a good, tough bill," Clinton said. "I hope it gets wide support."
The president made his comments in a speech to the state attorneys general who brokered last year's proposed $368 billion tobacco settlement.
Clinton praised the attorneys general, who he said have uncovered evidence about tobacco industry marketing and made public internal industry documents available to the public.
Clinton said studies show that 3,000 teenagers begin smoking every day, and 1,000 will die early because of it. The president urged the attorneys general to tell Congress, "A thousand kids a day is too high a price to pay for another year's delay."
Clinton accused the industry of deliberately targeting youth as the next generation of smokers -- "and tomorrow's Medicare and Medicaid bills, and hospital wards, and premature funerals."
"The worst part of this epidemic is that it isn't the product
of deadly natural forces raging out of control, but a
sophisticated, deliberate marketing campaign, targeted at our
children," Clinton said.
He cited toy race cars with cigarette logos and noted the Joe Camel character was supported with a $75 million advertising budget.
"He could have run for president," Clinton said to laughter.
Clinton conceded there are tough political questions, including liability limits, still to be settled, but what he wants in a bill is at least a $1.50-a-pack increase in cigarette prices; tough penalties for selling to children; a reaffirmation of the Food and Drug Administration's authority to regulate tobacco; protection for tobacco farmers and their communities; and an effort to get companies out of the business of marketing to children.
The public health issue transcends party and politics, Clinton said.
"This is an American issue," he said. "This is not about politics. Believe me, there is a solid majority of Congress in both houses comprised of members of both parties who want to do this and do this right."
CNN's John King contributed to this report.