President Bill Clinton
April 17, 1988
CLINTON: Thank you very much, Dr. Satcher, for the
exceptional report. I thank all those who worked on it. Mr.
Vice President and Secretary Shalala, thank you for your long
and constant fidelity to this cause. Thank you, Senator Frist,
for being here, for demonstrating that it is a medical, not a
political issue, and an American, not a partisan issue.
You gave us a twofer today, and we thank you for that. You
I also thank Senator Hatch and Senator Chafee for being here,
all of the members of the House of Representatives.
I thank the leaders of the Native American tribes who are
here. I especially thank the attorneys general who are here.
They had a lot to do with beginning this long struggle to free
our children from tobacco, and they deserve a lot of the credit
for the efforts that are now going on.
And I'd like to thank the young people who are standing
behind me and those whom they represent all across America in
the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Youth.
They represent the future we are trying to preserve.
This report gives us fresh evidence that those of us in this
society who are adults, and especially those of us who are
parents, are not doing our jobs very well. Any of us who have
ever been parents know that our most profound and instinctive
urge is to protect 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 a member
of the House who was at our previous event, and he was beginning
-- he was talking about a young staff member of his who was
dealing with a serious health problem.
And he choked up.
He couldn't even finish the conversation. And he's
a good person with a good heart, but that reflects a natural,
human response we have to protect our own children and all those
who are of the younger generation from whatever dangers we can
in the hope that they will have the opportunity to live full,
Well, we've done a good job over the years of strapping our
kids into seat belts in cars and safety seats. We do a pretty
good job of bundling up children against the winter cold. Not
many of them die of pneumonia anymore. We make sure that they
get to school safely each day.
But we haven't done what we should in wrapping the protective
arm of parents and other adults in our society as a whole around
them when it comes to resisting advertising, peer pressure or
whatever other forces get young people into smoking, even though
it's illegal to sell cigarettes to children in every state in
the United States.
We know that today about a third of our children are smoking.
The report issued by Dr. Satcher shows that more and more are
becoming hooked on cigarettes.
Smoking rates are up among teens of all backgrounds, but now
we see especially among Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians and
Pacific islanders, and especially and most dramatically among
African- Americans, where the rates used to be dramatically
lower than the average.
These are children just starting out in life. They've got
enough challenges as it is. We ought to do more to clear the
way, to assure them the best possible chance at the future of
Instead, they are still becoming the targets of highly
sophisticated marketing campaigns.
They are the replacement smokers of the
advertiser's strategy. But they are our children, and we can't
The call to action should be getting louder. Congress has a
very important opportunity to build on the work done by the
attorneys general, the representatives of individuals who have
been harmed in smoking and others, the work of the FDA to pass a
comprehensive bipartisan tobacco bill that will cut teen smoking
by raising the prices of cigarettes; putting into place tough
restrictions on advertising and access; imposing strong
penalties on those who continue to sell cigarettes to children;
ensuring the FDA has the authority it needs to regulate tobacco
products; protecting farmers in farming communities; and yes,
doing what Dr. Satcher says we still need to do, continuing to
invest more in research to find out the answers that we don't
have yet in this regard.
A bill sponsored by Senator McCain and voted out of the
committee with all but one vote, a unanimous vote save one, is a
good step in that direction, because it explicitly changes the
rules of the game to make it much harder for the tobacco
industry to profit at the expense of our children's health.
I want to say a special word of thanks, too, to Senator
Frist, because he's worked so hard to make sure that the bill
provides the FDA with the authority it needs to continue to
cover tobacco products.
Now, folks, the surgeon general has just issued his first
report. It's a fine report. It's a compelling report. It is
obviously compelling to the leaders of the groups from whom
these children come, because they have come here. We know what
the danger is.
We know what the remedy is. They're just kids; we're the grownups. Now, if we
know what the danger is and we know what the remedy is, are we
going to do what it takes to save their lives and their health
and their future or not? It is as simple as that. This is not
And I have been profoundly moved by the extent to which this
really has become an issue about health, not politics, an issue
about our children, not partisan differences.
Every step along the way, we have been able to reach across
party lines, we've been able to put aside rhetoric, we've been
able to try to look to the health issue of our children.
Now, I know there are some complexities surrounding this
There are complexities. You know, how much money should be
raised? How should it be spent? How should we assure the
continuing jurisdiction of the FDA? Exactly what are the nature
of the advertising restrictions and all?
There are complicated questions, but my experience now after
many, many years in public life is that all the complicated
questions get much simpler if you focus on the big issue.
The big issue is that the children behind us deserve to have
a future, and we know that unless we do something to stop them
from being treated as replacement smokers their future will be
restricted. That is the big issue.
We know what the problem is. We know what to do about it.
I suggest that these children -- you look at them, look at
all those they represent, look at those who don't yet have the
good sense to put their t-shirts on and join their crusade, and
it becomes pretty clear that we need to take this very first
report by our latest distinguished surgeon general and do the
right thing with the report and for our children.
Thank you very much.