Good morning. Today I want to talk about the steps we must take to protect our children and the public health from one of the greatest threats they face, tobacco. For years, tobacco companies have sworn they do not market their deadly products to children, but this week disturbing documents came to light that confirm our worst suspicions.
For years, one of our Nation's biggest tobacco companies appears to have singled out our children, carefully studying their habits and pursuing a marketing strategy designed to prey on their insecurities in order to get them to smoke.
Let me read you two of the most startling lines from an internal tobacco company presentation proposing a marketing campaign targeted at children as young as 14. Quote, "Our strategy becomes clear: direct advertising appeal to younger smokers." Younger smokers, this document says also, and I quote, "represent tomorrow's cigarette business." The message of these documents is all too clear: Marketing to children sells cigarettes.
Today I want to send a very different message to those who would endanger our children: Young people are not the future of the tobacco industry; they are the future of America. And we must take immediate, decisive action to protect them.
We know that every day 3,000 young people will start smoking, and 1,000 of them will die prematurely due to tobacco-related disease. We know that 90 percent of adults who smoke— 90 percent—began using tobacco before the age of 18. That is why, starting in 1995, we launched a historic nationwide effort with the FDA to stop our children from smoking before they start, reducing their access to tobacco products and severely restricting tobacco companies from advertising to young people. The balanced budget agreement I signed into law last summer includes a $24 billion children's health initiative, providing health coverage to up to 5 million uninsured children, paid for by tobacco taxes.
But even these efforts are not enough to fully protect our children from the dangers of smoking. To do that, we need comprehensive bipartisan legislation. Last September I proposed five key elements that must be at the heart of that legislation. First, and most important, it must mandate the development of a comprehensive plan to reduce teen smoking with tough penalties for companies that don't comply. Second, it must affirm the FDA's full authority to regulate tobacco products. Third, it must include measures to hold the tobacco industry accountable, especially for marketing tobacco to children. Fourth, it must include concrete measures to improve the public health, from reducing secondhand smoke to expanding smoking cessation programs to funding medical research on the effects of tobacco. And finally, it must protect tobacco farmers and their communities from the loss of income caused by our efforts to reduce smoking by young people.
If Congress sends me a bill that mandates those steps, I will sign it. My administration will do all it can to ensure that Congress passes this legislation. In September I asked the Vice President to build bipartisan support for the legislation, and he has held forums all across our country to focus public attention on the issue.
In a few weeks, my balanced budget proposal will make specific recommendations on how much the tobacco industry should pay and how we can best use those funds to protect the public health and our children. Today I want to let Members of Congress know that our administration will sit down with them anytime, anywhere to work out bipartisan legislation.
Reducing teen smoking has always been American's bottom line and always our administration's bottom line. But to make it the tobacco industry's bottom line, we have to have legislation. This is not about politics. This is not about money. It is about our children.
The 1998 Congress should be remembered as the Congress that passed comprehensive tobacco legislation, not the Congress that passed up this historic opportunity to protect our children and our future.
Thanks for listening.