President Bill Clinton Speaking On Tobacco Bill
March 12, 1998
CLINTON: ... Attorney General Doyle, Attorney General Reno,
thank you for joining us here today and for the work you have
done with the states' attorneys generals and local prosecutors
on domestic violence and reduce the crime rate and whole host of
I want to thank Fred DuVal (ph) for the work he does on my
behalf with you in this association.
And I'd also like to thank the two former attorneys general
that are working for me -- Bonnie Campbell (ph), who heads the
attorney general's effort on violence against women; and Chuck
Burson (ph), who was formerly president of NAG, is now the vice
I've really been looking forward to coming over
here today. I have had the opportunity to know and work with
most of you personally, and I see some former attorneys general
out in the audience who were my colleagues and friends. I thank
them for being here. It used to be a staple of all my speeches
that the best job I ever had was being attorney general. And to
me it was. I didn't have to hire or fire anybody...
... except the people on the staff. I didn't have to appoint
or disappoint anybody. Every unpopular thing I did, I blamed on
Now, I'm just a punching bag from time to time...
... who's grateful to have an attorney general. It's an
You know, on a more serious note, I loved the job that you
And I suspect that I ran for it for the same reason you did.
I wanted to protect families and consumers and enforce the law.
And you have been very strong allies of our administration and
good partners in those endeavors, and I thank you for that very
In many ways we are still colleagues, whether it's on
domestic violence, or reducing crime, or giving our young people
a more positive future. Now, we're working together to bring
our country to the verge of one of the greatest public health
achievements in the history of our nation -- a historic triumph
in our fight to protect our children from the deadly threat of
Together we have waged a great struggle -- in the courts, in
the Congress, across the negotiation tables and in our
communities where our children have been the targets of mass
marketing schemes, and where you have been on the front lines to
protect them from this effort to get them involved in addiction
We've made a lot of great strides in just a few years. And
whenever I talk to any of you who are involved in this,
naturally enough, we're always talking about what the present
state of play is and what all the various issues are and what's
going to happen tomorrow or what happened yesterday. And we can
talk about that some more, too. But, what I'd like to do is
take just a few moments to see how far we've come and then to
visualize the outcome that I believe we will achieve.
First, to look back and see why we ever took on the tobacco
companies in the first place.
When some of you filed your suits, it was
laughable. People said it was a fight that was unwinnable.
And second, to look ahead to the end of the day -- what we
have to do to win the fight to assure a healthier, stronger
America for our children in the new century.
We are poised to enter this new century stronger than we have
been in decades. This is a great moment for our country, full
of opportunity. We have the lowest unemployment rate in 24
years, the lowest inflation rate in 30 years, the highest home
ownership in history, smallest welfare rolls in 27 years, the
lowest crime rate in 24 years. It is a great moment of
We have a chance to open vistas of peace and prosperity and
freedom that our people have never before known.
Because most of the next century will belong to our children
and grandchildren instead of to ourselves, we all of us together
have worked these last five years to give them a future of
safety, health and security.
We've done a lot of specific things in addition to the
economic and crime and welfare statistics that I talked about.
Here in Washington, we have worked with many of you to implement
a zero- tolerance policy to keep guns and drugs out of schools.
The V-chip and the television ratings and educational
television have helped parents to strengthen the values as well
as the minds of our children.
We've worked to bring order and discipline to our children's
lives by supporting community reform efforts like curfews,
school uniforms, tougher truancy laws, and to bring hope into
their lives by supporting higher educational standards and
keeping schools open after hours, because as all of you know
most juvenile crime is committed when the school doors close for
the day but before the parents get home from work.
We've worked to support community service, from America Reads
to AmeriCorps, to America's Challenge.
And now we're helping to get millions of uninsured
children the health insurance they need.
This is a moment of great opportunity but also of great
obligation. And we have to build on this powerful momentum to
make the future we want for our children. To me, that's the
most important thing that you are doing in the tobacco
It is so easy in good times to relax. But you and I both
know that the world is changing so rapidly that whatever is
happening today, there will be something different happening
tomorrow. The sheer volume of knowledge is doubling every five
We are literally, because of human genome research, we are
literally solving problems in a matter of days that took years
to solve not long before I took office.
The Web, the World Wide Web, is growing by something like
65,000 Web sites an hour now. When I took office, there were
Think about that. Just a little over five years ago, the Web
was the province of a handful of scientists, physicists, started
by a government research project in the Defense Department. The
government, quite properly, having done the basic research and
getting it up and going got out of the way, and now it's the
fastest growing organ of human interaction ever, in all of human
I say that again to hammer home the fact that when people
have confidence because times are good, but leaders know times
are changing, there is a heavier than normal responsibility to
do the hard things for tomorrow.
That is why it is so important that you have
engaged this tobacco issue. I cannot overstate it.
You know quite well that smoking kills more people every day
than AIDS, alcohol, auto accidents, murders suicides, drugs and
fires combined, and that nearly 90 percent of the smokers lit
their first cigarette before they turned 18.
David Kessler, the former FDA commissioner, calls smoking a
pediatric disease. Today, and every day, 3,000 children start
smoking illegally and 1,000 will have their lives shortened as a
This is a national epidemic. It is a national tragedy. until we prevail.
Just last month, the Journal of the American Medical
Association concluded that advertisements and promotions were
even more crucial than peer pressure in getting teens to start
Now the law says that they can't advertise tobacco products
on television or radio, but you can't escape the ads anywhere
else. In our magazines, our sports centers, on billboards,
tobacco is one of the most heavily advertised products in
America. In the early 1990s, Joe Camel alone had an advertising
budget of $75 million. He could have run for president.
And that's a pretty good investment, from the tobacco
companies' point of view. More 3- to 6-year-olds could
recognize Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse.
The advertisements have taken a deadly toll. That's why you
began to bring your lawsuits. That's why in 1995 I launched a
nationwide effort to prevent our tobacco companies from
advertising to children; to educate children about the dangers
of smoking; to reduce children's access to tobacco products.
Working with the FDA, we made it the law of the land
essentially what was already the law in your states.
No sale of products to anyone under 18; required ID
showings for anyone under 27 to make sure teens don't buy
cigarettes. And I'm very proud that last year the courts upheld
Without the foresight and courage and determination of the
attorneys general, the progress would not have occurred. You
put tobacco companies on the stand in courtrooms across America.
You brought them to the bargaining table. You extracted
important concessions. You raised awareness to tobacco's tragic
costs to our economy and our children. You got documents out
that needed to be out.
Your work has been essential, and the American people owe you
an eternal debt of gratitude.
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
I don't know how many of you saw it over the weekend, but
there was a story that I saw in at least two different networks
about this deadly virus that it gets into small rats in the
Southwest. And because of El Nino and the warming, the area of
influence of this little animal is larger.
And the couple hundred people that have gotten this infection
from the mice, the small mice in the last four years, the
fatality rate has been 50 percent.
We spend a lot of time in our administration trying
to make sure that the National Institutes of Health and the CDC
has the investment they need both to do the research and then to
set up the mechanisms to deal with the spread of disease.
And as more and more of us travel to far away places, and
more and more people from far away places travel to us and we
meet strangers in the airport, one of the great challenges of
the 21st century will be the spread of disease.
One of the things that global warming has done is to raise
mosquitoes bearing malaria to higher and higher altitudes now so
more and more people are exposed to it. Then they travel, and
more and more people come in contact with it. There is now an
actual public health phenomenon called Airport Malaria. I'm
saying that not to scare you. We'll figure out how to handle
it. We'll deal with it.
But the point is that this is what we ought to be worried
about. That is, we ought to be worried about those things that
arising out of the natural course of events over which we have
no control that require a public health response. We should not
have to worry about things that are the deliberate result of
calculated decisions to make money. We shouldn't do that.
If it hadn't been for your efforts, we might have had to wait
another 30 years for the documents that have confirmed our worst
suspicions. You did that.
For years we've known cigarette makers study kids habits and
tastes, preying on them with targeted marketing. Joe Camel
T-shirts, Virginia Slims rock concerts, toy race cars emblazoned
with tobacco company logos. The free giveaways tell the tale.
Just last year some tobacco companies wanted to market what
some called a kiddie pack -- smaller, more affordable packs of
cigarettes. Sort of a starter kit. And I was in a community
last week in which a person concerned about this told me that
more and more cigarettes were being sold to children one by one
for a quarter a piece.
Now, as the documents are released, we began to
learn the whole story. In an internal document, one company
proudly described its brand as -- quote -- "the brand of choice
among teenagers." Another described its plan to flavor
cigarettes with apples, honey or Coca Cola, because -- quote
-- "it's a well-known fact that teenagers like sweet
Another company memoranda put it even more bluntly. "The 14
to 24 age group," it says, "represent tomorrow's cigarette
And tomorrow's Medicare and Medicaid bills, and hospital
wards, and premature funerals.
This avalanche of evidence is bringing down the walls of
deceit. Now we know the facts; now you have acted. Now Congress
Congress must pass comprehensive tobacco legislation that
gets the industry out of the business marketing cigarettes to
Thirty years of deception -- now Congress must act to bring
it to an end. Thirty years of manipulation -- Congress must now
act to bring it to an end. And it must act now.
Most Americans have 200 days left in their work calendar this
But the work calendar, schedule in Washington is only 68
days, partly because it's an election year, partly because of
things that are scheduled for the holidays, partly because
members do have to go home legitimately and work in their home
states and districts.
I say that to say 68 days is not a lot left this
year, but it's more than enough to get this job done.
The attorneys general have proved that this is not an issue
of party, but an issue of principle. It's not an issue that
divides America, but one that can unite us.
I was in Utah the other day. Not exactly the strongest
Democratic state in America.
And I was with Senator Bennett and Governor Leavitt and the
two House members, and I said: "It's wonderful that I'm here in
Utah with my family just as this tobacco fight is opening. It's
the only issue I can think of that all of Utah is to the left of
And -- praise the Lord for the Mormon Church, though.
But it was a -- it's a funny story, but it illustrates a very
serious and sober point. This is an American issue. 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.
Now, it's a complicated issue. There are complicated
questions of jurisdiction in the Congress -- you know, which
committees and subcommittees should have this piece or that
piece of the legislation.
And a lot of people are having trouble with how you work out
the future liability of the tobacco companies and how much to
give up in return for the advertising fix that we want which
otherwise may not prevail in the courts.
You know, there are all these questions out there.
But what I want to tell you is that we can do this. And you
have to help us do this. You have to go to the Congress and
say, a thousand kids a day is too high a price to pay for
another year's delay.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
I think we should say clearly and simply that Congress should
not go home until it passes comprehensive tobacco legislation.
This is one thing that has to be done this year.
Now, I have said I would support any comprehensive,
bipartisan legislation if it meets five principles.
I believe it must raise the price of cigarettes by up to
$1.50 a pack over the next decade and impose tough penalties on
companies that continue to sell to kids.
It must reaffirm the FDA's authority to regulate tobacco
It must get the tobacco companies out of the
business of marketing to our children. It must further our
other public health goals and it must protect the tobacco
farmers and their communities. And I take it we're all agreed on
that. I think that is very important.
Today, I'm happy to report that Senators John Chafee, Bob
Graham, and Tom Harkin are introducing the first bipartisan bill
that meets all five of these principles. And I strongly support
their effort. It is a good tough bill. I hope it gets wide
support. The evidence is clearer than ever that this
legislation will save lives.
We have now a recent study that says, if Congress acts, we
can cut teen smoking by almost half in the next five years
That means we can stop almost three million children from
beginning. That means we can prevent almost one million
Again I say, sure there'll be important issues to be worked
out, even among allies. Even among yourselves, you have to
worry about that. I know that. But, if you decide that you
have to act, then you figure out a way to work out the issues.
This 30-year struggle also, I will say, is not about money.
There are some budget and spending issues in Congress between me
and the Democrats and the Republicans -- three or four or five
different ideas. But if we just remember this is not about
money, it's not about the size of the prize we can extract from
the tobacco industry. It is about fulfilling our
responsibilities to our children -- as parents, as a government,
as a nation.
You have shown enormous courage and foresight in helping us
get where we are today.
... how far we have come. If someone had told you just a
couple of years ago, we would be here today, hardly one of you
would have believed it. Be proud of what you have done. But
bring all your influence to bear on the Congress.
It's not a question of party, it's a matter of principle.
And it will have a great deal to do with what your country looks
like when your children are sitting where you are today. Thank
you very much, and God bless you.