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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 4, 1998


The Roosevelt Room

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. The First Lady and I have just returned, exhausted but exhilarated, from our trip to Africa. I know that many of you traveled along with us day by day through television and the Internet, but I wish every American could have seen up close the renewed hope and restored pride that is evident in the six countries we visited. We saw parents building futures where their children will be free from want, free from injustice, free from disease, and free to go as far as their God-given talents will allow.

This morning, I want to report on the progress we're making in our country to free children from two of the greatest health and safety dangers they face: the cruel and deadly lure of smoking and the lethal combination of drinking and driving.

Three years ago, appalled by how many children were becoming addicted to cigarettes every year, the Vice President and I committed this administration to stopping the sale and marketing of cigarettes to children. Today, thanks to these efforts and the persistence of state attorneys general, the public health community, and leaders in Congress, we have the best opportunity ever to pass comprehensive anti-smoking legislation that will save millions of our children from a premature, painful, and very preventable death.

This week, in an historic and resounding 19 to 1 vote, a key Senate committee gave its stamp of approval to comprehensive legislation sponsored by Senator John McCain, a Republican, and Senator Fritz Hollings, a Democrat, that would cut youth smoking by half over the next decade. This bill represents a dramatic step forward. It would raise the price of cigarettes, give the FDA full authority to regulate tobacco products, ban advertising aimed at children, and protect tobacco farmers.

We still have work to do on this legislation. Above all, we need to put in place tough penalties that will cost the tobacco industry if it continues to sell cigarettes to young people. Just this week the Centers for Disease Control released a disturbing report that found that more than a third of teenagers in the United States now smoke, even though it's illegal.

It is time to hold tobacco companies accountable. Reducing youth smoking must be everybody's bottom line. Let's remember -- this is not about politics or money, or seeking revenge against the tobacco industry for past practices. We're not trying to put the tobacco companies out of business; we want to put them out of the business of selling cigarettes to kids. This week's progress in the Senate shows we have real momentum in both parties to do just that.

Unfortunately, this week the Congress also took a step backward on efforts to cut down on drunk driving, a horror that has shaken nearly every American community. Republican leaders in the House blocked a full vote on an important measure to encourage states to adopt a stricter definition of drunk driving. That has already passed the United States Senate. I urge the House leadership to reconsider its unwise action.

A stricter definition of drunk driving will not prevent adults from drinking responsibly, but it will save thousands of lives. There are fewer than 75 days remaining on Congress's legislative calendar. But as we saw this week in the Senate, when we set aside partisan differences and keep our eyes on the prize of dramatically improving our children's health, we can make remarkable progress in record time.

There's still many issues to be worked out and many long nights ahead. But we have within our grasp one of the most important public health victories our nation has ever achieved.

Finally, let me just pause a moment to observe the 30th anniversary of the death of one of America's greatest heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King. His dream, deeply rooted in the American Dream, is a dream for all Americans. It's a dream, as I recently saw, shared by millions and millions of people around the world. Let us here at home always strive to heed Dr. King's words and live up to his legacy.

Thanks for listening.