[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[March 12, 1998]
[Pages 363-366]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the National Association of Attorneys General
March 12, 1998

    Thank you very much, Attorney General Doyle. 
Attorney General Reno, thank you for joining us 
here today and for the work you have done with the States' attorneys 
general and local prosecutors on domestic violence and to reduce the 
crime rate and a whole host of other issues. I want to thank Fred 
DuVal for the work he does on my behalf with you 
and this association. And I'd also like to thank the two former 
attorneys general that are working for me: Bonnie Campbell, who heads the Attorney General's effort on violence 
against women; and Chuck Burson, who was 
formerly president of NAAG, now the Vice President's Counsel.
    I've really been looking forward to coming over here today. I have 
had the opportunity to know and work with most of you personally, and I 
see some former attorneys general out in the audience who were my 
colleagues and friends. I thank them for being here.
    It used to be a staple of all my speeches that the best job I ever 
had was being an attorney general, and to me it was. I didn't have to 
hire or fire anybody--[laughter]--except the people on the staff. I 
didn't have to appoint or disappoint anybody. [Laughter] Every unpopular 
thing I did I blamed on the Constitution. [Laughter] Now, I'm just a 
punching bag from time to time--[laughter]--who's grateful to have an 
Attorney General. It's a very interesting thing. [Laughter]
    On a more serious note, I loved the job that you now hold. And I 
suspect that I ran for it for the same reason you did: I wanted to 
protect families and consumers and enforce the law. And you have been 
very strong allies of our administration and good partners in those 
endeavors, and I thank you for that very much. In many ways, we are 
still colleagues, whether it's on domestic violence or reducing crime or 
giving our young people a more positive future.
    Now we're working together to bring our country to the verge of one 
of the greatest public health achievements in the history of our Nation, 
a historic triumph in our fight to protect our children from the deadly 
threat of tobacco. Together we have waged a great struggle in the 
courts, in the Congress, across the negotiation tables and in our 
communities, where our children have been the targets of mass-marketing 
schemes and where you have been on the frontlines to protect them from 
this effort to get them involved in addiction to tobacco.
    We've made a lot of great strides in just a few years. And whenever 
I talk to any of you who are involved in this, naturally enough, we're 
always talking about what the present state of play is and what all the 
various issues are and what's going to happen tomorrow or what happened 
yesterday. And we can talk about that some more, too. But what I'd like 
to do is take just a few moments to see how far we've come and then to 
visualize the outcome that I believe we will achieve--first, to look 
back and see why we ever took on the tobacco companies in the first 
place when, when some of

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you filed your suits, it was laughable, people said it was a fight that 
was unwinnable; and second, to look ahead to the end of the day, what we 
have to do to win the fight to ensure a healthier, stronger America for 
our children in the new century.
    We are poised to enter this new century stronger than we have been 
in decades. This is a great moment for our country, full of opportunity. 
We have the lowest unemployment rate in 24 years, the lowest inflation 
rate in 30 years, the highest homeownership in history, smallest welfare 
rolls in 27 years, the lowest crime rate in 24 years. It is a great 
moment of opportunity.
    We have a chance to open vistas of peace and prosperity and freedom 
that our people have never before known. Because most of the next 
century will belong to our children and grandchildren instead of to 
ourselves, we, all of us together, have worked these last 5 years to 
give them a future of safety, health, and security. We've done a lot of 
specific things in addition to the economic and crime and welfare 
statistics that I talked about. Here in Washington we have worked with 
many of you to implement a zero tolerance policy to keep guns and drugs 
out of schools. The V-chip and the television ratings and educational 
television have helped parents to strengthen the values as well as the 
minds of our children.
    We've worked to bring order and discipline to our children's lives 
by supporting community reform efforts like curfews, school uniforms, 
tougher truancy laws; and to bring hope into their lives by supporting 
higher educational standards and keeping schools open after hours, 
because, as all of you know, most juvenile crime is committed when the 
school doors close for the day but before the parents get home from 
work. We've worked to support community service, from America Reads to 
AmeriCorps to America's Challenge. And now we're helping to get millions 
of uninsured children the health insurance they need.
    This is a moment of great opportunity but also of great obligation. 
And we have to build on this powerful momentum to make the future we 
want for our children. To me, that's the most important thing that you 
are doing in the tobacco litigation.
    It is so easy in good times to relax, but you and I both know that 
the world is changing so rapidly that whatever is happening today, there 
will be something different happening tomorrow. The sheer volume of 
knowledge is doubling every 5 years now. We are literally--because of 
human genome research, we are literally solving problems in a matter of 
days that took years to solve not long before I took office. The World 
Wide Web is growing by something like 65,000 websites an hour now. When 
I took office, there were 50--[laughter]--50. Think about that. Just a 
little over 5 years ago the Web was the province of a handful of 
scientists, physicists, started by a Government research project in the 
Defense Department. The Government, quite properly, having done the 
basic research and getting it up and going, got out of the way, and now 
it's the fastest growing organ of human interaction ever, in all of 
human history.
    I say that again to hammer home the fact that when people have 
confidence because times are good but leaders know times are changing, 
there is a heavier-than-normal responsibility to do the hard things for 
tomorrow. That is why it is so important that you have engaged this 
tobacco issue. I cannot overstate it. You know quite well that smoking 
kills more people every day than AIDS, alcohol, auto accidents, murders, 
suicides, drugs, and fires combined and that nearly 90 percent of 
smokers lit their first cigarette before they turned 18. David 
Kessler, the former FDA Commissioner, 
called smoking a pediatric disease. Today and every day, 3,000 children 
start smoking illegally, and 1,000 will have their lives shortened as a 
result. This is a national epidemic. It is a national tragedy. We must 
struggle to end it until we prevail.
    Just last month, the Journal of the American Medical Association 
concluded that advertisements and promotions were even more crucial than 
peer pressure in getting teens to start smoking. Now, the law says that 
they can't advertise tobacco products on television or radio, but you 
can't escape the ads anywhere else, in our magazines, our sports 
centers, on billboards. Tobacco is one of the most heavily advertised 
products in America.
    In the early 1990's, Joe Camel alone had an advertising budget of 
$75 million. He could have run for President. [Laughter] And that's a 
pretty good investment from the tobacco companies' point of view. More 
3- to 6-year-olds could recognize Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse.
    The advertisements have taken a deadly toll. That's why you began to 
bring your lawsuits. That's why in 1995 I launched a nationwide

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effort to prevent our tobacco companies from advertising to children, to 
educate children about the dangers of smoking, to reduce children's 
access to tobacco products. Working with the FDA, we made it the law of 
the land, essentially what was already the law in your States: no sale 
of products to anyone under 18; required ID showings for anyone under 27 
to make sure teens don't buy cigarettes. And I'm very proud that last 
year the courts upheld this authority.
    Without the foresight and courage and determination of the attorneys 
general, the progress would not have occurred. You put tobacco companies 
on the stand in courtrooms across America. You brought them to the 
bargaining table. You extracted important concessions. You raised 
awareness of tobacco's tragic cost to our economy and our children. You 
got documents out that needed to be out. Your work has been essential, 
and the American people owe you an eternal debt of gratitude.
    The worst part of this epidemic is that it isn't the product of 
deadly natural forces raging out of control but a sophisticated, 
deliberate marketing campaign targeted at our children.
    I don't know how many of you saw it over the weekend, but there was 
a story that I saw on at least two different networks about this deadly 
virus that gets into small rats in the Southwest, and because of El Nino 
and the warming, the area of influence of this little animal is larger. 
And the couple hundred people that have gotten this infection from the 
mice, the small mice, in the last 4 years--the fatality rate has been 50 
    We spend a lot of time in our administration trying to make sure 
that the National Institutes of Health and the CDC has the investment 
they need both to do the research and then to set up the mechanisms to 
deal with the spread of disease. And as more and more of us travel to 
faraway places and more and more people from faraway places travel to us 
and we meet strangers in the airport, one of the great challenges of the 
21st century will be the spread of disease. One of the things that 
global warming has done is to raise mosquitoes bearing malaria virus to 
higher and higher altitudes now, so more and more people are exposed to 
it. Then they travel, and more and more people come in contact with it. 
There is now an actual public health phenomenon called airport malaria.
    I'm saying that not to scare you--we'll figure out how to handle it, 
we'll deal with it--[laughter]--but the point is that this is what we 
ought to be worried about; that is, we ought to be worried about those 
things that are arising out of the natural course of events over which 
we have no control, that require a public health response. We should not 
have to worry about things that are the deliberate result of calculated 
decisions to make money. We shouldn't do that.
    If it hadn't been for your efforts, we might have had to wait 
another 30 years for the documents that have confirmed our worst 
suspicions. You did that. For years we've known cigarette makers study 
kids' habits and tastes, preying on them with targeted marketing. Joe 
Camel T-shirts, Virginia Slims rock concerts, toy race cars emblazoned 
with tobacco company logos, the free giveaways tell the tale.
    Just last year some tobacco companies wanted to market what some 
called a kiddie-pack, smaller, more affordable packs of cigarettes, sort 
of a starter kit. And I was in a community last week in which a person 
concerned about this told me that more and more cigarettes were being 
sold to children one by one, for a quarter a piece.
    Now, as the documents are released, we begin to learn the whole 
story. In an internal document, one company proudly described its brand 
as ``the brand of choice among teenagers.'' Another described its plan 
to flavor cigarettes with apples, honey, or Coca-Cola because, ``it's a 
well-known fact that teenagers like sweet products.'' Another company 
memorandum put it even more bluntly: ``The 14 to 24 age group,'' it 
says, ``represent tomorrow's cigarette business''--and tomorrow's 
Medicare and Medicaid bills and hospital wards and premature funerals.
    This avalanche of evidence is bringing down the walls of deceit. Now 
we know the facts. Now you have acted. Now Congress must act. Congress 
must pass comprehensive tobacco legislation that gets the industry out 
of the business of marketing cigarettes to our children. Thirty years of 
deception--now Congress must act to bring it to an end. Thirty years of 
manipulation--Congress must now act to bring it to an end. And it must 
act now.
    Most Americans have 200 days left in their work calendar this year. 
But the work calendar schedule in Washington is only 68 days, partly 
because it's an election year, partly because of things that are 
scheduled for holidays, partly

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because Members do have to go home, legitimately, and work in their home 
States and districts. I say that to say 68 days is not a lot left this 
year, but it's more than enough to get this job done. The attorneys 
general have proved that this is not an issue of party but an issue of 
principle. It's not an issue that divides America but one that can unite 
    I was in Utah the other day, not exactly the strongest Democratic 
State in America. [Laughter] And I was with Senator Bennett and Governor Leavitt 
and the two House Members, and I said, ``It's wonderful that I'm here in 
Utah with my family just as this tobacco fight is opening. It's the only 
issue I can think of that all of Utah is to the left of me on''--
[laughter]--``and praise the Lord for the Mormon Church.'' [Laughter]
    But it's a funny story, but it illustrates a very serious and sober 
point. This is an American issue. This is not about politics. Believe 
me, there is a solid majority of Congress in both Houses, comprised of 
members of both parties, who want to do this and do this right. Now, 
it's a complicated issue; there are complicated questions of the 
jurisdiction in the Congress, which committees and subcommittees should 
have this piece or that piece of the legislation. A lot of people are 
having trouble with how you work out the future liability of the tobacco 
companies, and how much to give up in return for the advertising fix 
that we want, which otherwise may not prevail in the courts. You know, 
there are all these questions out there.
    But what I want to tell you is that we can do this. And you have to 
help us do this. You have to go to the Congress and say, ``A thousand 
kids a day is too high a price to pay for another year's delay.'' 
[Applause] Thank you. Thank you very much. I think we should say clearly 
and simply that Congress should not go home until it passes 
comprehensive tobacco legislation. This is one thing that has to be done 
this year.
    Now, I have said I would support any comprehensive bipartisan 
legislation if it meets five principles: I believe it must raise the 
price of cigarettes by up to $1.50 a pack over the next decade and 
impose tough penalties on companies that continue to sell to kids; it 
must reaffirm the FDA's authority to regulate tobacco products; it must 
get the tobacco companies out of the business of marketing to our 
children; it must further our other public health goals; and it must 
protect the tobacco farmers and their communities. And I take it we're 
all agreed on that; I think that is very important.
    Today I'm happy to report that Senators John Chafee, Bob Graham, and Tom Harkin are introducing the first bipartisan bill that meets all 
five of these principles, and I strongly support their effort. It is a 
good, tough bill. I hope it gets wide support. The evidence is clearer 
than ever that this legislation will save lives. We have now a recent 
study that says if Congress acts, we can cut teen smoking by almost half 
in the next 5 years alone. That means we can stop almost 3 million 
children from beginning. That means we can prevent almost 1 million 
premature deaths.
    Again, I say, sure, there will be important issues to be worked out, 
even among allies. Even among yourselves, you have to worry about that. 
I know that. But if you decide that you have to act, then you figure out 
a way to work out the issues. This 30-year struggle also, I will say, is 
not about money. There are some budget and spending issues in Congress 
between me and the Democrats and the Republicans--three or four or five 
different ideas. But if we just remember this is not about money, it's 
not about the size of the prize we can extract from the tobacco 
industry; it is about fulfilling our responsibilities to our children as 
parents, as a Government, as a Nation.
    You have shown enormous courage and foresight in helping us get 
where we are today. Again I would say, in the heat of the moment do not 
forget how far we have come. If someone had told you just a couple of 
years ago we would be here today, hardly a one of you would have 
believed it. Be proud of what you have done, but bring all your 
influence to bear on the Congress. It's not a question of party; it's a 
matter of principle. And it will have a very great deal to do with what 
your country looks like when your children are sitting where you are 
    Thank you very much, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:16 a.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the 
Washington Court Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Jim Doyle, 
president, National Association of Attorneys General; Fred DuVal, Deputy 
Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Intergovernmental 
Affairs; Bonnie Campbell, former Iowa attorney general; and Gov. Michael 
O. Leavitt of Utah.