Presidential Radio Address - 25 March 2000
Good morning. As I reach the end of my terrific week in South Asia and prepare to return home, I want to talk to you this morning about the greater challenge we now face to keep our children safe from the dangers of tobacco. Every single day another 3,000 American children smoke their first cigarette. Most of them will be hooked for life, and a third of them will die earlier as a result.
That's why our administration has worked so hard to highlight the health threat teen smoking poses and to keep tobacco products out of the hands of our children. We supported State and local efforts to stop underage smoking before it starts. And we know these efforts work. Massachusetts has used education programs to reduce high school student smoking by 15 percent. Oregon cut eighth-grader smoking rates by almost a third in just one year.
Five years ago we asked the Food and Drug Administration to start a campaign to slash teen smoking in every State and to treat nicotine like the dangerous drug it is. The FDA wrote strong, effective rules to prevent any child under 18 from buying any tobacco product anywhere in the United States. The FDA was also prepared to end tobacco advertising that is shamelessly aimed at addicting another generation of our young people.
This effort had strong support from public health leaders in both parties in Congress, but it collapsed under the pressure of tobacco companies and the Republican leadership in Congress while the tobacco industry challenged the rules in court.
This week, in a setback for the health of our children, the Supreme Court ruled that the FDA must have explicit authorization from Congress before it can regulate tobacco. However, all nine Justices made it perfectly clear that they believe tobacco is dangerous, especially to young people. The majority opinion called it, quote, "perhaps the most significant threat to health in the United States."
Now, the American people know this. They've known it for a long time. Now the ball is in Congress' court. They should show they also understand the danger to our young people and give the FDA's tobacco regulations the force of law.
This is not a partisan issue. It's a health issue for our Nation and a life-or-death issue for children. In 1998 a bipartisan group of Senators offered legislation that would have let the FDA's campaign move forward. It had the support of 57 Senators from both sides of the aisle, but the leadership blocked it. And this week similar bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House. I urge both Houses of Congress to pass it promptly.
The Justice Department also has sued the tobacco manufacturers to recover the cost of tobacco-related illnesses and to make sure they're held accountable for actions that they take. I ask Congress to support these efforts, as well, not undermine them, as some have threatened to do. I also ask Congress to work with me to take action to protect the financial security of tobacco farmers and their communities.
And finally, I challenge the States to do their part, as well, by dedicating the money they've collected from tobacco settlements to fund antismoking programs for children and young people.
Preventing our children from smoking is our common responsibility. It's a fight we can win and one we must win, starting now.
Thanks for listening.