Armed with documents showing R.J. Reynolds tried to lure 13- and 14-year-old smokers, President Clinton told the Republican-led Congress on Saturday he will “sit down with them anytime, anywhere” to work out tough anti-tobacco legislation.
“This is not about politics. This is not about money. It is about our children,” the president said in his weekly radio address. “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.”
He said he wants strong bipartisan legislation to cut teen smoking and financially penalize tobacco companies that don’t comply, to give the Food and Drug Administration full authority to regulate tobacco products as a drug, to protect tobacco farmers from devastating income loss and to expand medical research, smoking cessation programs and efforts cutting secondhand smoke.
“If Congress sends me a bill that mandates those steps, I will sign it,” Clinton said. “Our administration will sit down with them anytime, anywhere to work out bipartisan legislation.”
“Reducing teen smoking has always been America’s bottom line,” he said. “But to make it the tobacco industry’s bottom line, we have to have legislation.”
The budget plan he will submit to Congress next month will make specific recommendations on “how much the tobacco industry should pay (in penalties) and how we can best use those funds to protect the public health and our children,” Clinton promised.
His address came two days after the release on Capitol Hill of secret memos showing that R.J. Reynolds, the nation’s second-largest cigarette producer and marketer, developed and sustained beginning in the 1970s a direct advertising appeal to young smokers - teens as young as 13 - that resulted in the hip Joe Camel campaign and even a special brand aimed at boys.
Reading from the Reynolds documents, Clinton quoted a 1970s line that he said he found startling: “Our strategy becomes clear: direct advertising appeal to younger smokers” who represent “tomorrow’s cigarette business.”
“To those who would endanger our children, young people are not the future of the tobacco industry,” Clinton said. “And we must take immediate, decisive action to protect them.”
The president’s broadcast was taped Friday, in advance of his Saturday morning deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit.