[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[April 9, 1998]
[Pages 542-546]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at Carroll County High School in Carrollton
April 9, 1998

    Thank you very much. Now, Jackie was a 
little nervous before she came up, but I think she did a great job, 
don't you? [Applause] She mentioned your other two classmates, 
Marissa and Josh, who 
were over at the other meeting in the warehouse, and they were also 
very, very good, and you could have been very proud of them.
    I could have done without Jackie 
reminding me that Kentucky beat Arkansas not once, not twice, but 3 
times this year. But I cheered for you anyway in the tournament. 
    And let me say, I'm delighted to be here with my good friends 
Governor Patton and Senator Ford, and I thank them for their leadership for you and 
for all of Kentucky. I thank Secretary of Agriculture Dan 
Glickman for coming down here with me today, 
and for being here last week and for his tireless work for the farmers 
of America.
    I thank Congressman Scotty Baesler for 
flying down here with me today and also bending my ear about the needs 
of farmers and the communities; and Lieutenant Governor Henry; your auditor, Edward Hatchett; Senator Saunders; Senator 
Blevins; Speaker Jody Richards and Mayor Welty and Judge 
McCurry. I thank all of them for being here 
with me.
    I thank your superintendent and your 
principal for welcoming me to your school. And 
I'd also like to thank the people, in addition to the students who were 
mentioned, who met with me over at the tobacco warehouse a few moments 
ago to discuss both this community's desire to prevent teenagers from 
smoking and to preserve the way of life for the tobacco farmers and 
their families. And I'd just like to acknowledge them--they're over 
here--Melvin Lyons, the owner of the 
Kentuckiana Tobacco Warehouse; Rod Kuegel, the 
president of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative; Amy 
Barkley, the director of the Coalition for 
Health and Agricultural Development; Mattie Mack, a tobacco farmer who has raised 4 children and 38 
foster children on her tobacco farm; Bill Sprague, the president of the Kentucky Farm

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Bureau; Dr. Wilbert Goatley, the pastor of 
the First Baptist Church of Eminence, Kentucky; and Marissa, Josh--you all stand 
up, all of you. Thank you very much for being here for us today. Thank 
    I'd also like to say a special word of appreciation to the vice 
chairman of Humana, David Jones, who was part of 
the Presidents' Summit on Citizen Service last April in Philadelphia and 
has committed $2 million and 50,000 community service hours to help stop 
tobacco use by children. Thank you very much.
    Ladies and gentlemen, before I get into my speech, I need to say a 
few words about the terrible losses suffered by our neighbors in Alabama 
and Georgia as a result of the tornadoes that swept through there last 
night. If you've been looking at the television, you've seen how awful 
it has been. Today I am declaring a major disaster in three Alabama 
counties, Jefferson, St. Clair, and Tuscaloosa; adding to the number of 
counties already declared in the State of Georgia; and ordering more 
Federal aid to those areas. I have spoken to our FEMA director, James 
Lee Witt, and I've asked Mr. Witt and our 
Vice President, Al Gore, to go down to 
Alabama and Georgia tomorrow to look at the damage.
    But if you have been seeing it on television, it's quite amazing, 
and I hope you'll all say a prayer for those folks tonight and join with 
them in spirit as they begin to rebuild.
    Speaking of rebuilding, it's good to see how you have recovered from 
the flood of '97, when Eagle Creek and the Kentucky River were spilling 
out all over this county. It's a great moment of resilience for Kentucky 
and a golden moment for our country. Communities all across America are 
thriving. We have the strongest economy in a generation, the lowest 
unemployment rate in 25 years, the lowest inflation in 30 years, the 
highest rate of homeownership in the entire history of America. We have 
the lowest crime rate in 24 years, and crime has gone down 5 years in a 
row for the first time since the 1950's, when even I was younger than 
most of you in this audience. We have the lowest welfare rolls in 27 
years. Things are going in a good direction in this country.
    We've tried to open the doors of college to all Americans. Now, all 
of you students, your families can get a $1,500-a-year tax credit for 
the first 2 years of college tuition and tax credits for the junior and 
senior year, for graduate school, for adults who have to go back to 
school; a better student loan program; more work-study grants; more Pell 
    I think it's really possible for us to say to every young person in 
America, for the first time in the history of this country if you will 
work hard and make your grades and you want to go to college, money 
should now not keep you from going. We have opened the doors of college 
to all Americans.
    I understand that the chemical and steel industries here in Carroll 
County are booming and virtually guaranteeing jobs to students who are 
involved in your remarkable work-study program and getting the essential 
math, science, and technical skills you need.
    Today, as all of you know, I came here to talk about the urgent 
national need to deal with the problem of more and more of our young 
people beginning to smoke, even though it's illegal to sell cigarettes 
to minors in every State in the country, and to talk about how that 
could impact the future of tobacco: tobacco farmers and tobacco 
    I know there has been a lot of discussion in this area and, indeed, 
all over Kentucky about what this tobacco legislation in Congress 
involves and where we are in the process. So today I came here, first, 
to listen to the concerns of the people that I introduced over there who 
were trying to speak in a way for all of you and, second, to tell you 
where I think we're going with this.
    But let me begin by making three points. First, we have a historic 
opportunity to pass bipartisan legislation this year which both contains 
the elements necessary to reduce teen smoking in America and provides 
adequate protection for tobacco communities. And I'm going to do 
everything I can to put politics aside and pass legislation that will 
achieve that objective.
    Second, the legislation we seek is not about politics or money or 
Senator Ford seeking revenge on the tobacco industry. I don't want to 
put the tobacco companies out of business. I do want to put them out of 
the business of selling cigarettes to teenagers.
    Third, it is important not to abandon the tobacco farmers, the 
warehouses, the communities, who have not done anything wrong, who have 
not marketed cigarettes to teenagers, who have worked hard to grow and 
sell a legal crop and been good, honest, taxpaying citizens. I will not 
support any legislation in this area that does

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not contain adequate protection for your farmers and your communities.
    You know, when the flood waters were rising out of control here, not 
only you but all of your fellow citizens all across America just took it 
as a given that we had a national responsibility to help you deal with 
the flood and its aftermath and get back to normal.
    When the terrible earthquake hit California, and you saw pictures of 
our representatives going to California to try to help those folks 
restore normal life and spending a lot of money to rebuild their 
highways and rebuild one great university out there, I'll bet you hardly 
anybody in Kentucky resented the fact that the National Government was 
helping them.
    When the Mississippi River overflowed its banks a few years ago and 
we had a 500-year flood, most people in Kentucky, I bet anything, did 
not object to the work we did to try to help the people in Iowa and 
    Last year, when that town in North Dakota, that beautiful little 
town, was both flooded and burned at the same time, I bet all of us were 
pulling for the mayor up there and the 
citizens and glad to help.
    When we have big economic upheavals, we must do the same thing. So 
if we succeed in reducing--here's the bottom line--if we succeed in 
reducing teen smoking, then sooner or later we will reduce the overall 
demand for tobacco. Can we do that and still do right by the families 
who grow tobacco, by the warehouses, by the communities? I think the 
answer to that is yes. And that's what the legislation has to do, so let 
me describe it, because otherwise, you can't say, ``Oh, I'm for reducing 
teen smoking, but I don't want you to do anything about it.''
    By definition, if you reduce teen smoking, the volume will go down. 
Let's not pretend, just because I'm in Kentucky, that this is an easy 
problem. There's no point in pretending something is true that isn't. If 
you reduce teenage smoking, as is the right thing to do morally and from 
a health point of view and the law requires, it will reduce, sooner or 
later, the overall volume of tobacco required. How can you do that and 
be fair to the tobacco farmers and their communities? That is the issue 
    Now, I think we can do it. But first of all, you have to decide if 
you think it's important. Everybody says it, but do you believe that? 
Just last week, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta released a 
disturbing report that found that more than 40 percent of American 
teenagers now smoke or chew tobacco. Now, the law says that tobacco 
companies can't advertise tobacco products on television or radio, but 
the ads are everywhere else, in magazines, sport arenas, billboards, toy 
race cars, something not many adults buy. Not long ago, a national 
survey showed more young children recognized Joe Camel than Mickey 
Mouse. Today and every day, about 3,000 young people begin to smoke, and 
the evidence is conclusive that 1,000 of the 3,000 will have their lives 
shortened as a result.
    Now, one of the things that has poisoned the political atmosphere is 
that the tobacco companies--nobody has any animosity against the 
farmers--but for years and years and years, the companies denied that 
they were marketing to children until all these lawsuits were filed and 
the information was drug out. And now every month, there's a new set of 
information which shows that not only were they knowingly advertising in 
a way that was especially appealing to children but that there were 
direct-marketing campaigns designed to get people involved before they 
were 18 to keep the number of cigarette smokers high. Now, that has come 
out. It wasn't volunteered; it wasn't told; it's been pulled out. And 
that has created this climate that exists in Washington and has resulted 
in all these lawsuits being filed.
    What I want to do is to say, look, what's past is past, but what we 
want to do is to do all the things necessary to stop advertising and 
marketing tobacco to kids; to do things that will actually reduce teen 
smoking so more of you will live longer, better, healthier lives; and to 
do it in a way that protects the tobacco farmers and the communities, 
and again I say, doesn't put the tobacco companies out of business, just 
gets them out of the business of selling to children.
    Now, last week, a key Senate committee on which Senator Ford sits approved by 19 to 1 a bill sponsored by John 
McCain, a Republican, and Senator Fritz 
Hollings of South Carolina, a Democrat, 
that we believe would cut teen smoking by half over the next decade. And 
thanks to Senator Ford's leadership, it contained provisions which will 
do what I said we have to do and also protects tobacco farmers and their 
communities. It recognizes that a lot of what people have been saying to 
tobacco farmers for years is just unrealistic, ``Well, why don't

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you just go grow some other crop on the land?'' There is no other crop 
that has anything like the same return per acre that tobacco does, and 
most tobacco farmers have small plots of tobacco, earning quite a high 
yield per acre.
    What does it do? It offers, first of all, a very generous buyout for 
people that want to stop producing now--very generous--so that they can 
have more than enough money to spend the investment doing something else 
to generate income.
    Secondly, it says that if, over time, there is further reduction in 
demand, it provides more funds to help warehouses, communities, and 
provide very generous education benefits to people who are involved in 
the work.
    And the third thing it does is to preserve the existing program for 
people who stay in it so that there will finally be some certainty 
instead of all the uncertainty that's been hanging over the families and 
communities like this one for so many years. The president of your State 
farm bureau said the most important thing we need now is to have 
legislation passed this year that will reduce teen smoking but will give 
these farmers and their families and their communities some certainty. 
That is what we want to do.
    Yesterday, for whatever reasons, some of the tobacco executives 
indicated that they might not participate anymore in negotiating this 
bill, either because they think the bill that passed out of the Senate 
committee was too hard or because they're afraid it'll get worse. I 
don't know exactly what. I will say this, we have to have some financial 
incentives on them to in fact reduce the rate of teen smoking; otherwise 
we will have done all this for nothing. I'm not just trying to raise a 
bunch of money to raise money or to raise the price of cigarettes. The 
goal is to make America's children healthier.
    And so I hope they will reconsider, because I'm determined to get 
this done this year. I heard today that the people here in this county 
do not want any more uncertainty. They want us to act. It would be 
better if we could act with the tobacco companies at the table too, so 
we're all talking together, so we're all sharing our information, so we 
all at least agree on the facts if we don't agree on the solutions. So I 
hope they'll reconsider and become a part of this. But we're going to do 
this, this year. If I can control the outcome, we will actually act this 
    I don't think this is a time for threats by anybody. This is a time 
to put the past behind us, look ahead to the future, and achieve all 
these objectives. If we move forward with the legislation in the Senate 
and it does what it's supposed to do, it will stop about 60,000 children 
a year in Kentucky from beginning to use tobacco over the next 5 years. 
That means that 20,000 children a year in this State will live longer, 
healthier, fuller lives. I think that's worth the effort.
    Let me also say, Mattie Mack, the farmer I 
mentioned who raised her own children and 38 foster children, gave me a 
pretty good little lecture about the responsibility of the people who 
buy or receive tobacco products and their parents and that we shouldn't 
put all this on the sellers. And so I say to all of you students, I hope 
that you are taking responsibility for your own future, and if you 
haven't started smoking, I hope you won't. I don't believe that the 
Wildcats could have left all of their opponents gasping for breath, 
could have come from behind repeatedly to win the tournament, if their 
lungs had been incapacitated. And I don't think you do either.
    Again, I want to encourage you also to work with each other. I have 
a young friend here who's from another community in Kentucky who has 
become a pen-pal of mine. Her name is Meghan Johnson. Stand up, Meghan. She's a seventh grader from Madison 
County, Kentucky. And she's been writing me very interesting letters for 
the last few years. And so now, when one of Meghan's letters comes in, 
everybody in the office clamors to read it because she always says 
something rather unconventional and interesting. Like so many of you, in 
her youth she is brutally honest about whatever it is she's writing 
    She's taken a big stand against tobacco 
in her community. After seeing two people close to her stricken with 
cancer, she and some of her friends decided to produce a video and a 
poster to help convince every student in her middle school--understand 
the dangers of smoking.
    And Meghan and all of you young people 
here today are the future of your State and our Nation. If you want to 
do this and do it right, we can do it. We don't have to wreck the fabric 
of life in your community. We don't have to rob honest people of their 
way of life. But even in tobacco country, we can't deny what

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the scientists have told us or what has been done to market tobacco to 
children in ways that compromise their future. To me, no company's 
bottom line is important compared to America's bottom line. America's 
bottom line should be your life, your future, your health. And for me, 
that's what it is.
    Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:14 p.m. in the gymnasium. In his remarks, 
he referred to Carroll County High School students Jacqueline Jones, who 
introduced the President, Marissa Vaught, and Josh Coombs, and principal 
Randy Marcum; Gov. Paul E. Patton, Lt. Gov. Stephen L. Henry, and State 
Auditor Edward B. Hatchett, Jr. of Kentucky; Senator Larry Saunders, 
president, and Senator Walter Blevins, Jr., president pro tempore, 
Kentucky Senate; Representative Jody Richards, speaker, Kentucky House 
of Representatives; Mayor Bill Welty of Carrollton; Gene McMurry, 
Carroll County judge; Robert Biggin, Jr., superintendent, Carroll County 
public schools; Mayor Patricia Owens of Grand Forks, ND; and Bill 
Sprague, president, Kentucky Farm Bureau.