WASHINGTON -- President Obama signed into law today the toughest new measures ever on the tobacco industry designed to stop young people from smoking, a powerful habit that the president himself started as a teenager -- and one he is still grappling with on a day-to-day basis.
The Family Smoking Prevention Act the president approved gives the US Food and Drug Administration sweeping authority to regulate ingredients in tobacco products, like tar and nicotine, as well as limit advertisements aimed at young people and have final say over new tobacco products. The law, which Congress passed overwhelmingly, also restricts makers of tobacco products from using candy or fruit flavorings in their products and bans them from advertising at sporting or entertainment events.
Before signing the bill, Obama said the harmful effects of tobacco products have been known for decades, and "more than 400,000 Americans now die of tobacco-related illnesses each year, making it the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. More than 8 million Americans suffer from at least one serious illness caused by smoking" at a national cost of more than $100 billion a year.
"What's even worse are the effects on our children," Obama said, noting that one in five kids under age 18 will be smoking by the time they leave high school. "Each day, 1,000 young people under the age of 18 become new, regular, daily smokers."
Obama then added his own well-publicized fight with tobacco for emphasis.
"Almost 90 percent of all smokers began at or before their 18th birthday," he 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."
Before running for president, Obama famously made a deal with his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama: she would fully support his run for the White House if he quit smoking. During the campaign, Obama used nicotine gum to break the habit, but since his election he has declined to say he has quit smoking for good.
Asked yesterday if the president has had relapses, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs would say only that his boss, like most smokers trying to quit, "struggles with it every day. I don't honestly see the need to get a whole lot more specific than the fact that it's a continuing struggle."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.