November 10, 2010
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good morning and thank you to everyone for joining us.
I’m glad to be here with two of our department’s great health leaders – Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh and FDA Commissioner Dr. Peggy Hamburg – to announce some major new steps we’re taking in the fight against tobacco use.
For years, we watched tobacco rates fall. In 1965, over 42 percent of Americans smoked. By 2004, it had fallen to just under 21 percent.
Yet in recent years, despite the well known health risks, youth and adult smoking rates that had been dropping for decades have stalled.
Every day, nearly 4,000 kids under 18 try their first cigarette, and some1,000 kids under 18 become daily smokers. And 443,000 Americans die prematurely each year from smoking and second hand smoke exposure, making it our country's leading cause of preventable death. It also costs our health care system almost $100 billion a year.
When this Administration took office, we decided that if these numbers weren’t changing, our actions had to.
So over the last two years, we’ve accelerated our efforts to reduce tobacco use, taking a coordinated approach that uses the many tools available to help tobacco users stop and keep others from starting.
The first step was the historic legislation enacted last June. For the first time ever, that law gave FDA the power to regulate tobacco products.
The law includes many vital provisions, but some of the most important prohibit marketing practices aimed at children.
Tobacco companies have been very clever at finding ways to market their products to youth such as giving out free samples and advertising in youth-oriented magazines.
Under the new tobacco control law, we’re bringing these practices to an end.
And we’ve banned misleading terms like “light”, “low” and “mild” from tobacco products and marketing.
Second, as part of the Recovery Act, we’re funding some of the most promising state and local programs around the country for reducing tobacco use.
Altogether, we’re investing more than $225 million in programs like one in Ringgold County, Iowa where they are using evidence-based tobacco control interventions to decrease tobacco use in low income, rural populations. Eventually, these communities will become models for the rest of the country.
The third big step we took was passing the Affordable Care Act, which provides a new opportunity to transform how our nation addresses tobacco use through a new $15 billion Prevention and Public Health Fund.
The law is also giving Americans in private and public health plans access to recommended preventive care, like tobacco use cessation, at no additional cost.
And for the first time, Medicare will cover tobacco cessation for all beneficiaries. Previously, if you were in Medicare, you could only get treatment after you developed a tobacco-related illness. Now, people in Medicare will get help quitting tobacco before they get sick.
Under this approach, we’re using the many tools at our disposal from regulatory power to state and local investments to leading through the example of our government health insurance programs.
And today we’re announcing new initiatives that will help us bring all of these strategies together to achieve our tobacco control goals.
We are unveiling the department’s first ever comprehensive tobacco control strategic action plan, entitled: Ending the Tobacco Epidemic, and you’ll hear more about it in just a few moments from our wonderful Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh.
The plan lays out strategic actions based on science and real-world experience that will serve as a roadmap for reaching our Healthy People target of reducing the adult smoking rate to 12% by 2020.
This follows the Administration’s goals of a coordinated and committed response to tobacco control.
To that end, along with Dr. Koh, you’re also going to hear from our FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.
Today, FDA is announcing a proposed rule that will drastically change the look and message of a pack cigarettes. New graphic warning labels will replace the old warning phrase with pictures showing the negative health consequences of smoking.
You’ll see some examples from Dr. Hamburg, but I will let you know that after this rule becomes final, every person who picks up a pack of cigarettes is going to know exactly what risk they are taking.
Because of the progress we have made in the last two years and the strategic action plan we are unveiling today, I am here today with a renewed sense of hope and momentum.
Going forward, our department has charted a clear path to ending tobacco use in our country.
We have a long way to go but we won’t rest until we’ve eliminated tobacco-related disease and suffering. The prosperity and health of our country depends on it.