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The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

May 18th, 2011
Washington, DC

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids for this wonderful honor. But more importantly, thank you for your commitment and for your never-ending efforts to reduce tobacco use here and around the world.

Thank you, Bill for your incredibly kind words. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with Bill first at AARP, and now in his incredible work as the Chair of this Board.

At Georgetown he continues to make sure our next generation of leaders will be guided by the same sense of civic responsibility and purpose that have guided him.

It’s clear being here tonight that the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids is in full stride, a reflection of the terrific leadership of Matt Meyers, Susan Liss, and the Board – but also a reflection of the importance of your mission.And while I am honored to accept this award, I do it on behalf of our entire team – a group of people at HHS who have brought such passion, commitment and expertise to this important battle against tobacco use in the US and across the globe.

That team includes some incredible leaders like my great partner, Bill Corr, who we “stole” from you for a good cause.

We also now have the great leadership of Bill Shultz, as General Counsel; Howard Koh, as the Assistant Secretary of Health; and Tom Frieden, leading the CDC.

Thanks to the leadership and perseverance of many of the people in this room, we have reached a historic moment in our battle against tobacco use. And at HHS, we have the team in place to make the very most of this opportunity.

When the Surgeon General released the first formal Report on Tobacco in 1964 more than two out of five Americans smoked. By 2004, that number had been cut in half.

But this past December, the most recent Surgeon General’s Report made it clear that the decline in youth and adult smoking rates had stalled.

For countless families, this means pain and anguish and fewer days to share with their loved ones.

It also means that we’re allowing tobacco to keep too many of our young people from reaching their fullest potential. And this carries a steep price for our nation.

As the world grows smaller and more connected, we need a strategy to compete and win. But that is hard to do, when tobacco use costs our economy and health care system nearly $200 billion a year.

Our attitude is that if tobacco use isn’t changing fast enough, our actions must.

So over the last two years, we’ve looked at every tool we have for reducing tobacco use. Then we asked, how can we do better?

President Obama started shortly after taking office when he signed CHIPRA – the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act – which included a 62 cent per pack increase in the federal cigarette tax.

Then in June of 2009, President Obama signed historic legislation which, for the first time gave the FDA the power to regulate tobacco products.

Some of the most important reforms in this law deal with marketing practices aimed at children.

The FDA has banned the tobacco industry from making claims of reduced harm without solid scientific backing, for example. And next month, the FDA will unveil the final versions of graphic warning labels which represent the first significant update in more 25 years.

But the provisions we’re implementing under 2009’s tobacco legislation are just a start.

As part of the Recovery Act, we have also launched a new initiative to provide more than $200 million in support for community tobacco control programs that implement proven strategies to reduce youth and adult tobacco use. Eventually, we hope these programs will become models for the entire nation.

And we continue to implement the Affordable Care Act -- another powerful tool in our campaign to reduce tobacco use.

Last week, for example, we announced over $100 million in funding available under the law for as many as 75 community-based projects across the country aimed at creating healthy environments and promoting healthy lifestyles – including tobacco-free living.

Investments like these are part of an ambitious commitment under the law to steadily shift the focus of our health care system – from waiting for people to become acutely ill, to giving them access to the information, choices, and care they need earlier – in a way that is more cost-effective and more health-effective.

And that also includes giving Americans in many private and public health plans access to recommended preventive care, like tobacco use cessation, at no additional cost.

Each of the elements that we’ve set out over the past two years is part of a broad strategy led by our Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh to align efforts across every agency in the Department.

It is our nation’s first-ever comprehensive tobacco control plan and a clear roadmap for the future.

We also recognize that this battle reaches beyond our own borders. It is a global effort with a great champion at the WHO, Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.

Recently, I led the US delegation to meetings, first in Moscow, and last night I just returned from Geneva.

I can report that international health leaders are fully engaged in tobacco cessation efforts. In fact, Dr. Chan made it clear that when it comes to their impact on public health and reducing the disease burden across the globe, tobacco efforts offer “the best bang for the buck” by far.

In Russia, she made that message clear to Prime Minister Putin. In Geneva, the US delegation led a meeting on the subject with 40 health ministers.

And at the UN in September, there will be a high level meeting of world leaders – not just health leaders – where chronic illness, obesity, and tobacco use will take center stage.

We are beginning to see a real consensus about the urgency of these challenges.

And, thanks to the work of many of you here today, there is a growing awareness that in a global campaign, we will all be most successful if we join the fight together.

At home and abroad, we have made enormous progress.

But the problem is not solved.

This administration is committed to solving it.

Tom Frieden at the CDC often talks about “Winnable Battles” – large-scale public health challenges where the strategies to address them are proven and in-hand.

Our campaign against tobacco is one of those winnable battles.

We have the science.

We certainly have the people – an incredible team of educators, scientists, business leaders, health care providers, public servants and advocates like you – not to mention a generation of shining stars like the young people honored here tonight.

And now, more than ever before, we have the laws and policies that will allow us to make good on that great promise.

We have the tools to win the fight. And together with your continued leadership, we will.

Thank you.