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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 22, 1999


West Portico

5:45 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Last January, in my State of the Union address, I announced that the Justice Department was preparing a litigation plan to cover the costs of smoking-related illnesses. Over the years, smoking-related illnesses have cost taxpayers billions of dollars, through Medicare, veterans' health, and other federal health programs.

Today, the Justice Department declared that the United States is, in fact, filing suit against the major tobacco companies to recover the costs borne by taxpayers. I believe it's the right thing to do. The tobacco companies should answer to the taxpayers for their actions. The taxpayers of our country should have their day in court.

Thank you very much.

Q Mr. President, the tobacco companies say this lawsuit is pure politics, sir. What do you say to them?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, if you look at the record of this administration, we've been out there on this issue a very long time. No one else ever tried to do that. We did our best to work with them and with the Congress to resolve many of these matters, legislatively, and they declined. And I believe this is the appropriate thing to do.

Q Do you think the North Koreans, sir, are going to stick to their moratorium on missile testing now, after the lifting of sanctions?

THE PRESIDENT: I do. And, of course, if the future proves otherwise, then there are always other options open to us. But former Defense Secretary Bill Perry, and others who worked with him, worked very hard on this, and then our negotiator in Berlin did a very good job. We worked very closely with the Japanese and with the South Koreans on this approach. They are agreed with it. And it offers the most promising opportunity to lift the cloud of uncertainty and insecurity and danger that otherwise would hang over that whole region, including the American servicemen and women who are there.

So I'm very, very hopeful about it. If it works, it does; if it doesn't, then there will be other options open to us.

Thank you.

END 5:48 P.M. EDT