Clinton Speaks To Kentucky High School Students
April 9, 1998
CLINTON: Thank you.
Thank you very much. Thank you.
Thank you very much.
Now, Jackie (ph) was a little nervous before she came up, but
I think she did a great job, don't you?
She mentioned your other two classmates -- Marissa (ph) and
Josh (ph) -- who were over at the other meeting in the
warehouse. They were also very, very good, and you could have
been very proud of them.
I could have done without Jackie reminding me that Kentucky
beat Arkansas not once, not twice, but three times this year.
But I cheered for you anyway in the tournament.
And let me say I am delighted to be here with my good
friends, Governor Patton, and Senator Ford, and I thank them for
their leadership for you, and for all of Kentucky.
I thank Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman for coming down
here with me today and for being here last week and for his
tireless work for the farmers of America.
I thank Congressman Scotty Baesler for flying down here with
me today, and also bending my ear about the needs of the farmers
and the communities, and Lieutenant Governor Henry, your
auditor, Edward Hatchett, Senator Saunders, Senator Blevins,
Speaker Jody Richards, and (audio gap) I thank your
superintendent and your principal for welcoming me to your
And I'd also like to thank the people, in addition
to the students who were mentioned, who met with me over at the
tobacco warehouse a few moments ago to discuss both this
community's desire to prevent teenagers from smoking and to
preserve the way of life for the tobacco farmers and their
And I'd just like to acknowledge them. They're over here.
Melvin Lyons (ph), the owner of the Kentucky Anna (ph) tobacco
warehouse; Rod Kuegel, the president of the Burley Tobacco
Growers Cooperative; Amy Barkley, the director of the Coalition
for Health and Agricultural Development; Mattie Mack (ph), a
tobacco farmer who has raised four children and 38 foster
children on her tobacco farm; Bill Sprague, the president of the
Kentucky Farm Bureau; Dr. Wilbert Goatley (ph), the pastor of
the First Baptist Church of Eminence (ph), Kentucky; and Marisa
(ph), Josh. You all stand up, all of you. Thank you very much
for being here for us today. Thank you. Thank you.
I'd also like to say a special word of appreciation to the
vice chairman of Humana, David Jones, who was part of the
president's Summit on Citizen Service last April in
Philadelphia, and who's committed $2 million and 50,000
community service hours to help stop tobacco use by children.
Thank you very much.
Ladies and gentlemen, before I get into my speech, I need to
say a few words about the terrible losses suffered by our
neighbors in Alabama and Georgia as a result of the tornadoes
that swept through there last night. If you've been looking at
the television, you've seen how awful it has been.
Today, I am declaring a major disaster in three
Alabama counties: Jefferson, St. Clair and Tuscaloosa; adding
to the number of counties already declared in the state of
Georgia; and ordering more federal aid to those areas.
I have spoken to our FEMA director, James Lee Witt, and I've
asked Mr. Witt -- and our vice president, Al Gore -- to go down
to Alabama and Georgia tomorrow to look at the damage.
But I -- if you have been seeing it on television, it's quite
amazing. And I hope you'll all say a prayer for those folks
tonight and join with them in spirit as they begin to rebuild.
Speaking of rebuilding, it's good to see how you have
recovered from the flood of '97 when Eagle Creek and the
Kentucky River was spilling out all over this county.
It's a great moment of resilience for Kentucky and a golden
moment for our country. Communities all across America are
We have the strongest economy in a generation. The lowest
unemployment rate in 25 years, lowest inflation in 30 years, the
highest rate of home ownership in the entire history of America.
We have the lowest crime rate in 24 years, and crime's gone
down five years in a row for the first time since the 1950s when
I was -- even I was younger than most of you in this audience.
We have the lowest welfare rolls in 27 years.
Things are going in a good direction in this country.
We've tried to open the doors of college to all Americans.
Now, all of you students, your families can get a $1,500-a-year
tax credit for the first two years of college tuition, and tax
credits for the junior and senior year for graduate school for
adults who have to go back to school, a better student loan
program, more work-study grants, more Pell grants.
I think it's really possible for us to say to every young
person in America for the first time in the history of this
country, if you will work hard and make your grades and you want
to go to college, money should now not keep you from going.
We have opened the doors of college for all Americans.
CLINTON: I understand that the chemical and steel industries
here in Carroll County are booming and virtually guaranteeing
jobs to students who are involved in your remarkable work-study
program and getting the essential math, science and technical
skills you need. Today, as all of you know, I came here to talk
about the urgent national need to deal with the problem of more
and more of our young people beginning to smoke, even though
it's illegal to sell cigarettes to minors in every state in the
country and to talk about how that could impact the future of
tobacco, tobacco farmers and tobacco communities. I know there
has been a lot of discussion in this area, and indeed all over
Kentucky about what this tobacco legislation in Congress
involves and where we are in the process.
So today I came here first to listen to the concerns of the
people that I introduced over there who were trying to speak in
a way for all of you; and second, to tell you where I think
we're going with this. But let me begin by making three points.
First, we have an historic opportunity to pass bipartisan
legislation this year which both contains the elements necessary
to reduce teen smoking in America and provides adequate
protection for tobacco communities. And I'm going to do
everything I can to put politics aside and pass legislation that
will achieve that objective. Second, the legislation we seek is
not about politics or money or Senator Ford seeking revenge on
the tobacco industry.
I don't want to put the tobacco companies out of
business. I do want to put them out of the business of selling
cigarettes to teenagers.
Third, it is important not to abandon the tobacco farmers,
the warehouses, the communities who have not done anything
wrong, who have not marketed cigarettes to teenagers, who have
worked hard to grow and sell a legal crop, and been good, honest
taxpaying citizens. I will not support any legislation in this
area that does not contain adequate protection for your farmers
and your communities.
You know, when the flood waters were rising out of control
here, not only you, but all of your fellow citizens all across
America just took it as a given that we had a national
responsibility to help you deal with the flood and its aftermath
and get back to normal.
When the terrible earthquake hit California, and you saw
pictures of our representatives going to California to try to
help those folks restore normal life, and spending a lot of
money to rebuild their highways and rebuild one great university
out there, I'll bet you hardly anybody in Kentucky resented the
fact that the national government was helping them.
When the Mississippi River overflowed its banks a few years
ago and we had a 500-year flood, most people in Kentucky -- I'll
bet anything -- did not object to work we did to try to help the
people in Iowa and Missouri.
Last year when that town in North Dakota, that beautiful
little town, was both flooded and burned at the same time, I bet
all of us were pulling for the mayor up there and the citizens
and glad to help.
When we have big economic upheavals, we must do the
So, if we succeed in reducing -- here's the bottom line -- if
we succeed in reducing teen smoking, then sooner or later we
will reduce the overall demand for tobacco.
Can we do that and still do right by the families who grow
tobacco, by the warehouses, by the communities? I think the
answer to that is yes. And that's what the legislation has to
So, let me describe it. Because otherwise you can't say --
Oh, I'm for reducing teen smoking but I don't want you to do
anything about it. By definition, if you reduce teen smoking,
the volume will go down. Let's not pretend just because I'm in
Kentucky that this is an easy problem.
There's no point in pretending something is, then it isn't.
If you reduce teenage smoking, as is the right thing to do
morally and from a health point of view and the law requires, it
will reduce soon or later the overall volume of tobacco
required. How can you do that and be fair to the tobacco
farmers and their communities? That is the issue here.
Now, I think we can do it. But, first of all, you have to
decide if you think it's important. Everybody says it, but do
you believe that?
Just last week the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta
released a disturbing report that found that more than 40
percent of American teenagers now smoke or chew tobacco.
Now, the law says that tobacco companies can't advertise
tobacco products on television or radio, but the ads are
everywhere else -- in magazines, sports areas, billboards, toy
race cars -- something not many adults buy. Not long ago, a
national survey showed more young children recognized Joe Camel
than Mickey Mouse.
Today and every day, about 3,000 young people begin to smoke
and the evidence is conclusive that 1,000 of the 3,000 will have
their lives shortened as a result.
Now, one of the things that's poisoned the
political atmosphere is that the tobacco companies -- nobody has
any animosity against the farmers. But for years and years and
years, the companies denied that they were marketing to children
until all these lawsuits were filed and the information was drug
And now every month, there's a new set of information which
shows that not only were they knowingly advertising in a way
that was especially appealing to children, but that there were
direct marketing campaigns designed to get people involved
before they were 18 to keep the number of cigarette smokers
It wasn't volunteered. It wasn't
told. It's been pulled out. And that has created this climate
that exists in Washington and has resulted in all these lawsuits
What I want to do is to say, look, what's past is past. But
what we want to do is to do all the things necessary to stop
advertising and marketing tobacco to kids; to do things that
will actually reduce teen smoking so more of you will live
longer, better, healthier lives; and to do it in a way that
protects the tobacco farmers and the communities -- and again I
say -- doesn't put the tobacco companies out of business, just
gets them out of the business of selling to children.
Last week, a key Senate committee, on which Senator Ford
sits, approved by 19 to 1 a bill -- sponsored by Senator John
McCain, a Republican, and Senator Fritz Hollings of South
Carolina, a Democrat -- that we believe would cut teen smoking
by half over the next decade.
And thanks to Senator Ford's leadership, it
contained provisions which will do what I said we have to do.
It also protects tobacco farmers and their communities. It
recognizes that a lot of what people have been saying to tobacco
farmers for years is just unrealistic -- Well, why don't you
just go grow some other crop on the land? There is no other
crop that has anything like the same return per acre that
tobacco does and most tobacco farmers have small plots of
tobacco earning quite a high yield per acre.
What does it do? It offers, first of all, a very generous
buyout for people that want to stop producing now -- very
generous -- so that they can have more than enough money to
spend the investment doing something else to generate income.
Secondly, it says that if over time there is further
reduction in demand, it provides more funds to help warehouses,
communities and provide very generous education benefits to
people who are involved in the work.
And the third thing it does is to preserve the existing
program for people who stay in it so that there will finally be
some certainty instead of all the uncertainty that's been
hanging over the families and communities like this one for so
many years. The president of your state farm bureau said the
most important thing we need now is to have legislation passed
this year that will reduce teen smoking but will give these
farmers and their families and their communities some certainty.
That is what we want to do.
Yesterday, for whatever reason, some of the tobacco
executives indicated that they might now participate anymore in
negotiating this bill, either because they think the bill that
passed out of the Senate committee was too hard or because
they're afraid it'll get worse, I don't know exactly what.
I will say this. We have to have some financial incentives
on them to in fact reduce the rate of teen smoking, otherwise we
will have done all this for nothing. I'm not just trying to
raise a bunch of money to raise money or to raise the price of
cigarettes. The goal is to make America's children healthier.
But I think...
And so I hope they will reconsider, because I'm determined to
get this done this year. I heard today that the people here in
this county do not want any more uncertainty. They want us to
act. It would be better if we could act with the tobacco
companies at the table, too, so we're all talking together, so
we're all sharing our information, so we all at least agree on
the facts if we don't agree on the solutions.
So I hope they'll reconsider and become a part of this. But
we're going to do this, this year. If I can control the
outcome, we will actually act this year.
I don't think this is a time for threats by anybody. This is
a time to put the past behind us, look ahead to the future and
achieve all these objectives.
If we move forward with the legislation in the Senate and it
does what it's supposed to do, it will stop about 60,000
children a year in Kentucky from beginning to use tobacco over
the next five years. That means that 20,000 children a year in
this state will live longer, healthier, fuller lives.
I think that's worth the effort.
Let me also say -- Mattie Mack (ph), the farmer I mentioned
who raised her own children and 38 foster children, gave me a
pretty good little lecture about the responsibility of the
people who buy or receive tobacco products and their parents,
and that we shouldn't put all this on the sellers.
And so I say to all of you students -- I hope that you are
taking responsibility for your own future.
And if you haven't started smoking, I hope you
I don't believe that the Wildcats could have left all of
their opponents gasping for breath, could have come from behind
repeatedly to win the tournament, if their lungs had been
incapacitated. And I don't think you do, either.
Again, I want to encourage you also to work with each other.
I have a young friend here who's from another community in
Kentucky, who's become a pen pal of mine. Her name is Megan
Johnson. Stand up, Megan.
She is a seventh grader from Madison County, Kentucky.
And she's been writing me very interesting letters for the
last few years. And so now when one of Megan's letters comes
in, everybody in the office just clamors to read it, because she
always says something rather unconventional and interesting.
Like so many of you, in her youth, she is brutally honest
about whatever it is she's writing about. She's taken a big
stand against tobacco in her community. After seeing two people
close to her stricken with cancer, she and some of her friends
have produced a video -- decided to produce a video and a poster
to help convince every student in her middle school understand
the dangers of smoking.
In Megan and in all of you young people here today are the
future of your state and our nation.
If you want to do this and do it right, we can do it. We
don't have to wreck the fabric of life in your community.
We don't have to rob honest people of their way of life. But
even in tobacco country we can't deny what the scientists have
told us or what has been done to market tobacco to children in
ways that compromise their future.
To me, no company's bottom line is important compared to
America's bottom line. America's bottom line should be your
... your future, your health. And for me, that's what it is.