President Obama Signs Kids Tobacco Legislation

The President:
Please, everybody,
have a seat — have a seat. I am thrilled to be here for
what is I think an extraordinary accomplishment by this Congress,
a bill we’re about to sign into law. I want to acknowledge a
few of our special guests. First of all we’ve got the crew
from the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids: Eamon, Christopher, Sarah,
and Hoai-Nam. (applause) We have our FDA
Commissioner, Dr. Peggy Hamburg. (applause) We have our CDC
Director, Tom Frieden. (applause) And we have just
some extraordinary members of Congress here on stage: Senator
Dodd, Senator Durbin, Senator Enzi, Senator Harkin, Senator
Lautenberg, Representative Waxman, Representative Dingell,
Representative Christensen, Representative Pallone, and
Representative Platts — all of whom did extraordinary work in
helping to move this legislation forward. Please give them a
big round of applause. (applause) I want to
thank all of them. Now, there are three members
of Congress that I have to especially thank: Representative
Waxman, Representative Dodd, and — excuse me — (laughter) — Senator Dodd — Senator Dodd:
Things are tough enough. (laughter) The President:
— and most importantly,
Senator Ted Kennedy — (applause) — who
can’t be here today. You know, the legislation I’m
signing today represents change that’s been decades
in the making. Since at least the middle of the
last century, we’ve known about the harmful and often deadly
effects of tobacco products. More than 400,000 Americans now
die of tobacco-related illnesses each year, making it the leading
cause of preventable death in the United States. More than 8 million Americans
suffer from at least one serious illness caused by smoking. And these health problems cost
us all more than $100 billion a year. What’s even worse are the
effects on our children. One out of every five children
in our country are now current smokers by the time
they leave high school. Think about that statistic: One
out of every five children in our country are now current
smokers by the time they leave high school. Each day, 1,000 young people
under the age of 18 become new, regular, daily smokers. And almost 90 percent of all
smokers began at or before their 18th birthday. I know — I was one of these
teenagers, and so I know how difficult it can be to break
this habit when it’s been with you for a long time. And I also know that kids today
don’t just start smoking for no reason. They’re aggressively targeted
as customers by the tobacco industry. They’re exposed to a constant
and insidious barrage of advertising where they live,
where they learn, and where they play. Most insidiously, they are
offered products with flavorings that mask the taste of tobacco
and make it even more tempting. We’ve known about this for
decades, but despite the best efforts and good progress made
by so many leaders and advocates with us today, the tobacco
industry and its special interest lobbying have generally
won the day up on the Hill. When Henry Waxman first brought
tobacco CEOs before Congress in 1994, they famously denied that
tobacco was deadly, nicotine was addictive, or that their
companies marketed to children. And they spent millions upon
millions in lobbying and advertising to fight back every
attempt to expose these denials as lies. Fifteen years later, their
campaign has finally failed. Today, thanks to the work of
Democrats and Republicans, health care and consumer
advocates, the decades-long effort to protect our children
from the harmful effects of tobacco has emerged victorious. Today, change has
come to Washington. This legislation will not ban
all tobacco products, and it will allow adults to
make their own choices. But it will also ban tobacco
advertising within a thousand feet of schools and playgrounds. It will curb the ability of
tobacco companies to market products to our children by
using appealing flavors. It will force these companies
to more clearly and publicly acknowledge the harmful and
deadly effects of the products they sell. And it will allow the scientists
at the FDA to take other common-sense steps to reduce
the harmful effects of smoking. This legislation is a victory
for bipartisanship, and it was passed overwhelmingly in
both Houses of Congress. It’s a victory for health care
reform, as it will reduce some of the billions we spend on
tobacco-related health care costs in this country. It’s a law that will reduce the
number of American children who pick up a cigarette and
become adult smokers. And most importantly, it is a
law that will save American lives and make
Americans healthier. We know that even with the
passage of this legislation, our work to protect our children and
improve the public’s health is not complete. Today, tobacco is the leading
preventable cause of death not just in America, but
also in the world. If current trends continue, 1
billion people will die from tobacco-related
illnesses this century. And so the United States will
continue to work with the World Health Organization and other
nations to fight this epidemic on a global basis. But no matter how long or how
hard this fight may be, what’s happening today gives us hope. When I ran for President, I
did so because I believed that despite the power of the status
quo and the influence of special interests, it was possible
for us to bring change to Washington. And the progress we’ve made
these past five months has only reinforced my faith
in this belief. Despite the influence of the
credit card industry, we passed a law to protect consumers from
unfair rate hikes and abusive fees. Despite the influence of banks
and lenders, we passed a law to protect homeowners
from mortgage fraud. Despite the influence of the
defense industry, we passed a law to protect taxpayers from
waste and abuse in defense contracting. And today, despite decades of
lobbying and advertising by the tobacco industry, we’ve passed
a law to help protect the next generation of Americans from
growing up with a deadly habit that so many of our
generation have lived with. When Henry Waxman opened that
first hearing back in ’94 on tobacco with the industry CEOs,
he began by quoting an ancient proverb: “A journey of a
thousand miles must begin with a single step.” Our journey for change
is far from over. But with the package of —
passage of the kids tobacco legislation that I’m about to
sign, we’re taking another big and very important step — a
step that will save lives and dollars. So I want to thank not only the
members of Congress who are up on stage, but also all the
members of Congress in the audience and all the health
advocates that fought so long
for this to happen. We hope you feel good about
the extraordinary service that you’ve rendered this country. Thank you very much. Let’s go sign the bill. (applause) (The bill is signed.)

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