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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release November 16, 1998
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                         ON TOBACCO SETTLEMENT

The Roosevelt Room

4:12 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. To Attorney General Gregoire and all the others who are here, and the attorneys general of North Carolina and California who are not here, but who are part of this initial group, I want to congratulate you. Bruce Reed, who spoke first and is my Domestic Policy Advisor, and I and the rest of us have been at this for quite a long time and we are very pleased by your success.

Because this is my only opportunity to appear before the press today, I'd like to begin by making a few comments about the situation in Iraq.

I am pleased that the weapons inspectors will return to Baghdad tomorrow to resume their work. As I've said from the start, the best outcome is to get the inspectors back on the job, provided they have unfettered access and full cooperation.

We know what the inspectors can accomplish. Since the system was created and the inspections began, Iraq has been forced to declare and destroy, among other things, nearly 40,000 chemical weapons; nearly 700 tons of chemical weapons agents; 48 operational missiles; 30 warheads especially fitted for chemical and biological weapons; and a massive biological weapons plant equipped to produce anthrax and other deadly agents.

The weapons inspectors, in short, have done a remarkable job. They must be permitted to finish their work. The burden of compliance is where it has always been -- on Iraq. Baghdad has an affirmative obligation to comply with the U.N. resolutions that require it to disclose and destroy its weapons of mass destruction and the capability of delivering those weapons.

Governments all over the world today stand united in sharing the conviction that full compliance, and nothing short of full compliance, is needed from Iraq. The world is watching Saddam Hussein to see if he follows the words he uttered with deeds. Our forces remain strong and ready if he does not.

Now, let me join the others in once again saying that today is a milestone in the long struggle to protect our children from tobacco. This settlement between the state attorneys general and the tobacco companies is clearly an important step in the right direction for our country. It reflects the first time tobacco companies will be held financially accountable for the damage their product does to our nation's health.

Again, let me thank Attorney General Gregoire, the others who are here, and those who are not. And I believe there were four states who previously signed individual settlements with the tobacco companies. All of them deserve the thanks of the country.

With this very large settlement which every other state has the opportunity to join, we are moving forward. But we have a lot more to do, for only the national government can take the full range of steps needed to protect our children fully from the dangers of tobacco. So it is still up to Congress to act, to rise to its responsibility to pass national tobacco legislation.

Our administration began this effort nearly four years ago, with the strong leadership of Vice President Gore and the then Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA then put in place a strong crackdown on tobacco advertising aimed at teenagers, the broadest and most significant effort to date to protect our children from the dangers of tobacco.

It has been challenged, as all of you know, in court by tobacco companies from the because beginning. Today I want to report that the Solicitor General will ask the Supreme Court to resolve this matter. But let us be clear: When it come to protecting our children from tobacco, ultimately it is up to Congress to finish the job.

The past Congress began with strong momentum toward action, only to see national tobacco legislation derailed by partisanship and special pleading. In the new Congress, I am determined that all of us will choose progress over partisanship -- I think that's what the voters were saying to us on Election Day.

Comprehensive national tobacco legislation must include many things, but especially it must clarify the jurisdiction of the FDA. And because of the cost inherent in this settlement and any further action by Congress, it should also include appropriate protections for tobacco farmers, as I have said from the beginning. It should be, it must be, one of the top priorities for the new Congress. I will work hard to see that it becomes law.

We should always remember what the real stakes are -- let me say them one more time. Every day we fail to act, more than 3,000 children start to smoke, even though it is illegal to sell them cigarettes. More than 1,000 will die earlier than they would have as a result. Our children continue to be targeted by multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns designed to recruit what the industry has called in its confidential documents "replacement smokers." With strong legislation, working with what the attorneys general have already done, we can save a million lives in the first five years.

Our duty to our children, therefore, is clear. We should give them the future they deserve. We can do it.

This is a good day for our country, and I thank all of you who have helped to bring it about. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 4:20 P.M. EST