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Letter to Congressional Leaders on Proposed Tobacco Legislation

May 20, 1998

Dear Mr. Leader:

I applaud the Senate for taking up comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to dramatically reduce teen smoking. Every day, 3000 teenagers start smoking regularly, and 1000 will die prematurely of smoking-related diseases as a result. I urge the Senate to move swiftly to pass comprehensive legislation that could save those children's lives.

Last September, and in my budget plan, I set forth five principles for comprehensive tobacco legislation:

  • Raising the price of cigarettes by $1.10 a pack over 5 years with additional surcharges on companies that continue to sell to kids;
  • Affirming the FDA's full authority to regulate tobacco products;
  • Getting companies out of the business of marketing and selling tobacco to minors;
  • Promoting public health research and public health goals; and
  • Protecting our tobacco farmers and their communities.

I have made protecting tobacco farmers and farming communities a top priority for this legislation, and I believe Senator Ford's LEAF Act fully meets this standard. I am deeply troubled by the Senate Leadership's recent attempt to undermine protection for tobacco farmers and their communities. I urge the Senate to work through this impasse and ensure that small, family farmers are protected.

If that issue can be resolved to my satisfaction, the bill before the Senate, as amended by Senator McCain's Manager's Amendment, is a good, strong bill that will make a real dent in teen smoking. Congress should pass it without delay.

I applaud Senator McCain and others in both parties who have worked hard to strengthen this legislation. I am particularly pleased that the bill contains significant improvements which will help reduce youth smoking and protect the public health:

  • Tough industry-wide and company-specific lookback surcharges that will finally make reducing youth smoking the tobacco companies' bottom line;
  • Protection for all Americans from the health hazards of secondhand smoke;
  • No antitrust exemption for the tobacco industry;
  • Strong licensing and anti-smuggling provisions to prevent the emergence of contraband markets and to prosecute violators;
  • A dedicated fund to provide for a substantial increase in health research funding, a demonstration to test promising new cancer treatments, a nationwide counteradvertising campaign to reduce youth smoking, effective state and local programs in tobacco education, prevention, and cessation, law enforcement efforts to prevent smuggling and crackdown on retailers who sell tobacco products to children, assistance for tobacco farmers and their communities, and funds for the states to make additional efforts to promote public health and protect children; and
  • The elimination of immunity for parent companies of tobacco manufacturers, an increase in the cap on legal damages to $8 billion per year, and changes to ensure that the cap will be available only to tobacco companies that change the way they do business, by agreeing to accept sweeping restrictions on advertising, continue making annual payments and lookback surcharges even if those provisions are struck down, make substantial progress toward meeting the youth smoking reduction targets, prevent their top management from taking part in any scheme to promote smuggling, and abide by the terms of the legislation rather than challenging it in court. Because the First Amendment limits what we can do to stop the tobacco companies' harmful advertising practices—which lure so many young people to start smoking—we can do far more to achieve our goal of reducing youth smoking if the companies cooperate instead of tying us up in court for decades. If a cap that doesn't prevent anybody from suing the companies and getting whatever damages a jury awards will get tobacco companies to stop marketing cigarettes to kids, it is well worth it for the American people. I, therefore, oppose the Gregg Amendment to strike the liability cap.

I strongly support these improvements, and I urge the Senate to pass this legislation without delay.



NOTE: Identical letters were sent to Trent Lott, Senate majority leader, and Thomas A. Daschle, Senate minority leader. An original was not available for verification of the content of this letter.

William J. Clinton, Letter to Congressional Leaders on Proposed Tobacco Legislation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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