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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release August 9, 1997
                            TO THE NATION

                           The Oval Office

10:06 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Vice President Gore has joined me today to talk to you about what we're doing to reduce smoking, especially by young people, and to protect Americans from the potential threat of second-hand tobacco smoke.

Cigarette smoking is the most single, significant public health problem facing our people today. Every year, more Americans die from smoking-related diseases than from AIDS, car accidents, murders, suicides and fires combined, taking a terrible human toll and putting great financial burdens on our health care system and on businesses all across America.

Last year, we took bold action to shield our children from tobacco, telling the tobacco companies: market and sell your products to adults if you wish, but you must draw the line at children. And we launched a comprehensive plan that prohibits retailers from selling tobacco to minors, and requires clerks to check IDs before selling cigarettes to the young people. These regulations are critical to our goal of keeping tobacco out of our children's lives -- but they must be enforced. I requested $34 million for enforcement in my 1998 budget, but Congress has cut that funding.

I urge the Congress to do the right thing and restore the full $34 million when they return in September. We need to do more to cut off our children's access to tobacco -- and this is no time to cut corners.

This week, I signed historic legislation that balances the budget in a way that protects our values, invests in our people and prepares us for the 21st century. Our balanced budget includes a 15-cents-a-pack cigarette tax to help states provide health care for up to 5 million uninsured children, and helps to prevent many young people from taking up smoking in the first place.

But we must do more to protect all Americans from the dangers of smoking. One of the most important things we can do is to protect those who don't use tobacco from the threat of second-hand smoke. And I'd like to ask the Vice President to say just a few words about what that threat means to our families and children.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Mr. President. Second-hand smoke isn't just unpleasant, it is a risk to the public health. Our Environmental Protection Agency puts it in the same category as asbestos, radon and benzene -- and those are some of the most dangerous of all carcinogens.

A Surgeon General's report found that second-hand smoke is a cause of disease among non-smokers, including the disease of lung cancer. According to other studies, second-hand smoke also increases children's risk of respiratory infections and aggravates the symptoms of asthma.

The answer as to what to do is simple -- we've got to do more to protect people from second-hand smoke in our public places and clean up the air that all of us share.

One important place to start is in the American work place. Lots of employers are now starting to realize that smoking hurts not only those who smoke, it may well harm other workers. And it also harms America's businesses through higher disease rates, higher health care costs, greater absenteeism and lower productivity on the job. That is why President Clinton has worked so hard to make federal government work places smoke-free.

One of the first things he did when he took office in 1993 was to ban smoking here in the White House. Since then, many of our federal agencies have taken steps to protect their employees from second-hand smoke. But that's just the beginning.

Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Today I am signing an executive order that takes the next step and bans smoking in all federal facilities under the control of our administration. A year from today, every federal agency and office building, every visitors center at every national park, every facility owned or leased by the executive branch must be smoke-free.

Now, this order does allow agencies to designate smoking areas for their employees who smoke, as long as these areas are ventilated to the outside and non-smoking employees do not have to enter them. Our federal workers and the thousands of people who visit federal facilities will now be protected from the risk of second-hand smoke.

This fall, I hope we'll begin an important national debate on additional measures we can enact to reduce smoking, especially by children. I applaud the state Attorney's General and public health advocates for providing us an extraordinary opportunity to engage in this debate and to build on the progress we've already made. I'm particularly pleased their plan includes a proposal, based on a bill by Representative Henry Waxman, to protect all Americans from second-hand smoke. And I look forward to working together in the months ahead to meet this challenge.

Americans who have made the choice not to use tobacco products should not be put at risk by those who choose to smoke. With this step we're taking today, millions of Americans will be able to breathe just a little easier.

Thanks for listening.

END 10:06 A.M. EDT