Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate on the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Yesterday, 3,500 kids who had never smoked before tried their first cigarette. Today, another 3,500 will do the same.
“For some, it will also be their last. They will feel as I did when my older brother let me try my first cigarette – and like me, they will say that once is enough.
“But for far too many others, it will become a part of their daily lives.
“If you think three-and-a-half thousand kids is a scary number, how about three-and-a-half million? That’s how many American high school students smoke – and nearly all of them aren’t even old enough to buy cigarettes.
“Three-and-a-half million. That means there are one million more students who smoke than there are men, women and children living in all of Nevada.
“It means that we have as many boys and girls smoking as we do playing high school football, basketball, track and field, and baseball – combined. When there are as many students endangering their health as there are staying healthy by playing the four most popular high school sports in the country, it is time to act.
“But should we be surprised? Every year, the tobacco industry pours billions upon billions of dollars into marketing designed to get more people – including children – to start smoking.
“Unfortunately, with nine out of 10 regular smokers in America having started when they were kids, these marketers are very good at their jobs. It’s time we do ours.
“The bipartisan bill that Senator Kennedy and the HELP Committee have delivered does a lot of good:
- it will keep American children and families healthier;
- it will keep tobacco companies honest about the dangers of using their poisonous products by strengthening existing warning labels;
- it will make it harder for those companies to sell cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to children; and
- it will make it harder for tobacco companies to lure our children in the first place.
“When it becomes law, this responsible bill will also help those who smoke overcome their addictions and make tobacco products less toxic for those who cannot or do not want to stop.
“Let’s be clear: No one is trying to ban the use of cigarettes or smokeless tobacco. But we are giving the proper authority – the FDA – the tools it needs to help those who smoke and protect those around them.
“We will talk a lot in the coming weeks and months about different ways to lift the heavy weight of health insurance costs. These crushing costs keep Americans from getting the care they need to stay healthy or help a loved one do the same. They have driven countless families into bankruptcy or foreclosure, let alone disease and even death.
“We will debate, and at times, we will disagree.
“But one of the most surefire solutions is to prevent health emergencies before they begin. And there is no doubt that the effects of smoking qualify as such an emergency.
“Tobacco-related health care costs Americans almost $100 billion every year. If you think the government is spending too much of your money, consider this: Your state and federal governments spend about $60 billion every year on Medicare and Medicaid payments for health problems created by tobacco.
“So it’s not just a health crisis; it’s an economic one, too – one we can hardly afford.
“And still, almost half a million people die every year as a result of their smoking or someone else’s. These deaths – from lung cancer, emphysema and other diseases – are at once among the most painful and the most preventable.
“At its heart, this bill aims to ease that pain and to prevent others from going through it.
“The dangers of smoking are hardly breaking news. We have known about them for decades. And we know volumes more today. But we must do more.
“This vote is simple. It is between endangering our children’s health and enriching the multibillion-dollar tobacco industry that poisons and preys on them.
“It is between accepting the responsibility we have to our future and rejecting the irresponsibility of the pervasive and perverse tobacco companies.
“And it is time we have that vote – because tomorrow, 3,500 more of our sons and daughters will light up their first cigarette.”