[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[April 20, 1998]
[Pages 591-592]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 591]]

Remarks on Congressional Action on Tobacco Legislation and an Exchange 
With Reporters
April 20, 1998

    The President. Good afternoon. Today Congress returns to work and to 
its obligation to act on the most critical public health threat to our 
children. Over the next 5 weeks, this Congress has an historic 
opportunity to pass bipartisan, comprehensive legislation to protect our 
children from the dangers of tobacco. We must not let this opportunity 
slip away.
    The facts are plain as the stakes are high: 3,000 children begin to 
smoke every day, even though it's illegal in every State, and 1,000 will 
die earlier because of it. All these children have been targeted by a 
massive, multimillion-dollar media campaign that preys on their 
insecurities and their dreams.
    For decades, we now know from their own documents that tobacco 
companies targeted children; and for decades, the industry denied it. 
Now, the tobacco industry once again seeks to put its bottom line above 
what should be our bottom line: the health of our children. In today's 
newspaper, the lead lobbyist for the tobacco industry says, and I quote: 
``We are fighting for our life.'' Well, let me be clear: We are fighting 
for the lives of our children; we are fighting for the public health; 
and we are fighting against predatory practices by tobacco companies 
that have targeted our children.
    In the days to come, the tobacco industry will doubtless raise 
objection after objection and will work behind closed doors to persuade 
Congress to pass half measures that will not reduce teen smoking. But I 
believe the majority of the American people and, indeed, the majority of 
Congress, members of both parties in Congress, will see this for what it 
is, a tobacco industry smokescreen.
    I ask Congress and the American people to focus on the real 
opportunity now within our reach. Over the past 5 weeks, Congress must 
move forward--over the next 5 weeks, Congress must move forward on 
comprehensive bipartisan legislation to reduce teen smoking by raising 
the price of cigarettes, putting into place tough restrictions on 
advertising and access, and imposing penalties on the industry if it 
continues to sell cigarettes to children. We can do that and protect the 
tobacco farmers at the same time.
    The legislation now moving through the Senate, authored by Senator 
McCain, which was voted out of committee on a 
nearly unanimous bipartisan vote 3 weeks ago now, is a strong step in 
the right direction. This is not a time for half measures; that simply 
won't reduce teen smoking, and it will only play into the tobacco 
industry's hands. It is a time for the kind of comprehensive approach to 
the problem that Senator McCain's legislation takes.
    We have an opportunity and an obligation now to put aside politics, 
to turn aside the pleas of special interests, to act in the interest of 
the health of generations of our children. I call on Congress to do so, 
and I look forward to working with them in good faith over the next few 
    Q. The suggestions that Speaker McCain--rather not, McCain--pardon 
    The President. Is he running for Speaker? [Laughter]
    Q. No, but perhaps he should. Speaker Gingrich wants to water down 
the bill, and House Republicans--there have been those suggestions. 
What's your reading of Speaker Gingrich's position, and what position 
should he take?
    The President. Well, let me say, before his recent comments I had been encouraged, because he 
basically said that he would not permit us to take a stronger position 
than he did. I was concerned by his reported comments; you know, I 
wasn't here in the country. I didn't hear them; I didn't see the context 
of them. But I certainly hope that he will return to his former 
    We need this to be a bipartisan effort. We need everybody working 
together. And we can do this. We can work through all the differences 
that are out there, and we can pass a bill that will clearly, 
dramatically reduce teen smoking. We can do it. And we got fresh 
evidence from the Journal of the American Medical Society--American 
Medical Association, showing that the role of advertising on children 
and their smoking habits has been even greater than peer pressure. We've 
got all this evidence out there, and we

[[Page 592]]

know what to do; we know how to do it; we can do it. And I'm just hoping 
and praying that we will.
    Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:13 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White