“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,” Obama said. “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.”
The unprecedented law allows the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco companies.
The FDA will be able to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes,administer product safety tests,ban candy flavorings of tobacco and prevent tobacco companies from displaying advertisements within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds.
Obama said the law will not ban all tobacco products and will still allow adults to make their own choices about tobacco.
“It will curb the ability of tobacco companies to market products to our children by using appealing flavors,” Obama said. “It will force these companies to more clearly and publicly acknowledge the harmful and deadly effects of the products they sell.”
Obama said the harmful effects of tobacco are no mystery. He said the tobacco industry and its special interest groups have finally lost the decade-long battle over tobacco regulation.
After the president spoke about the bill last week and didn't mention his own experiences,a reporter asked if the president still struggled with cigarettes. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs replied,”I think the President would likely tell you,as I think many – anybody would that has smoked or been addicted to smoking,that it is a life-long struggle.”
Congress has been jockeying with tobacco regulations for about decade,after the Supreme Court in 2000 overruled an FDA rule asserting its authority to regulate tobacco.
Rep. Henry Waxman,D-Calif.,who was present as the president signed the bill into law, initially investigated the effects of tobacco in 1994,when he brought tobacco chief executive officers to testify on Capitol Hill.
“It's a victory for health care reform,as it will reduce some billions we spend on tobacco-related health care costs in this country,” Obama said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that cigarette smoking accounts for 438,000 deaths a year in the United States.
“Our journey for change is far from over,” Obama said. “But with the 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.”
In addition to Waxman,Vice President Joe Biden and several senators,Obama was surrounded by members of the anti-smoking group Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids when he signed he bill.
Rob Morrison,interim executive director for the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors,said the new law is important but anti-drug groups still need to be vigilant with about how it is enforced.
“Additional tools to the problem are welcomed,” Morrison said.
He said the FDA's new role is especially important because states are experiencing budget shortfalls and,as a result,having to cut preventive tobacco services.
Calvina Fay,executive director for the Drug Free American Foundation,said time will prove whether the law is effective.
She said full disclosure of the chemicals inside cigarettes will help prevention and education efforts. But she said stiffer penalties for merchants who sell tobacco to minors would have been more effective in deterring teenage tobacco use.
“It's a step in the right direction,” Fay said.