THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT UPON DEPARTURE
Outside The Oval Office
10:18 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I'm about to leave for Vice President Gore's Family Reunion Conference in Nashville, something that he and Mrs. Gore have done now for many years, to discuss central concerns of America's families. And since we have been here in the White House, we have often used the conference as a springboard for new initiatives to strengthen our families and move our country forward.
Today we're going to be talking about health concerns of American families. Of course, one of the biggest health concerns is youth smoking, something we've been discussing a lot around here lately. We all now know that 3,000 young people start smoking every day, and that 1,000 will die earlier because of it, even though it's illegal in every state to sell cigarettes to young people.
That is why three years ago, through the Food and Drug Administration, my administration began to act to end the practice of tobacco companies marketing cigarettes to children, and why for the past year we've been working so hard to forge an honorable and bipartisan compromise to protect our children from the dangers of tobacco.
A majority of the Senate now stands ready to join us, but last week the Republican leadership placed partisan politics and tobacco companies above our families. Their vote was not just pro-tobacco lobby, it was anti-family. The bipartisan bill they blocked would not only protect families from tobacco advertising aimed at children; it would protect children from drugs, give low and middle income families a tax cut by redressing the marriage penalty, and make substantial new investments in medical research, especially in cancer research.
The congressional leadership seems willing to walk away from its obligation to our children, but this issue is too important to walk away. We'll continue to move forward on every possible front to protect children.
By the end of the year, the FDA's operation to enforce its ban on tobacco sales to minors will be active in nearly every state in America. And while we wait for Congress to heed the call of America's families, I'm instructing the Department of Health and Human Services to produce the first-ever annual survey on the brands of cigarettes teenagers smoke, and which companies are most responsible for the problem. Parents, quite simply, have a right to know. Public health officials can also use this information to reduce youth smoking.
The tobacco companies' automatic and angry dismissal of this new survey shows their continued disregard for their children's health and parents' concerns. We have a right to know. For years and years and years, they had information that proved tobacco was addictive and that demonstrated they were marketing to children -- and they didn't think we had a right to know that either. I believe this is very helpful information, and we'll do our best to get good, accurate, honest data.
Once this information becomes public, companies will then no longer be able to evade accountability, and neither will Congress. From now on the new data will help to hold tobacco companies accountable for targeting children.
Again, I urge Congress to pass bipartisan, comprehensive legislation rather than a watered-down bill written by the tobacco lobby. The leadership must put families' interests above big tobacco's interests. America's children deserve that, and I'll continue to do everything I can to ensure that they get it.
Q Isn't it a lost cause, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: No.
Q Mr. President, absent any penalties, what confidence do you have that just finger-pointing at the tobacco companies will have any impact on teen smoking?
THE PRESIDENT: I think if you have an annual survey -- first of all, I think it will be easier to get penalties. But if you have an annual survey that shows a substantial differential in brand preference among young people, then it will clearly demonstrate that there is something in the nature of the advertising that has something to do with this.
I mean, we basically know that the three elements involved here are advertising and access and then the general culture, so I believe that -- I think that advertising is very important. If there is no advertising -- excuse me, and price, the fourth thing is price. And so if advertising can be isolated and we can see that in brand preference, I think it will help us quite a lot to forge some good policies.
But you've got to understand, I still think we can get legislation, and I'm not at all ready to give up on it. I'm going to keep fighting for it. A majority wants it. The leadership of the Republican Party in Congress does not want it -- desperately doesn't want it. And the tobacco companies don't want it. But the American people do.
And all of the evidence that I've seen shows that the more people know about what's in the bill, as opposed to their $40 million characterization of it, the more their support goes up. So we need to keep fighting and we intend to continue to do that.
END 10:24 A.M. EDT