"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," Mr. Obama said before signing the legislation. "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 bill puts tobacco under the authority of the Food And Drug Administration, which will now regulate tobacco as a drug. A new entity within the FDA – the Center for Tobacco Products – will oversee the regulation, and it will have the power to mandate lower nicotine levels in tobacco products.
The legislation also bans candy-flavored cigarettes by October 2009, requires the full disclosure to the FDA of all ingredients and additives in cigarettes by January 2010, bans youth-focused marketing of cigarettes (including sponsorship of sporting events and clothing and cigarette giveaways), prohibits the use of misleading terms like "light" and "mild" on tobacco products by July 2010, and mandates new and stronger warning labels on tobacco products by July 2011.
"Today, thanks to the work of Democrats and Republicans, health care and consumer advocates, the decades-long effort to protect our children from the harmful effects of tobacco has emerged victorious," he added. "Today, change has come to Washington."
The president noted that the legislation does not ban tobacco products, thus allowing "adults to make their own choices." But he said it would mean a reduction in "the number of American children who pick up a cigarette and become adult smokers."
Still, he said, "our work to protect our children and improve the public's health is not complete."
"Today, tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death not just in America, but also in the world," said Mr. Obama. "If current trends continue, 1 billion people will die from tobacco-related illnesses this century. And so the United States will continue to work with the World Health Organization and other nations to fight this epidemic on a global basis. But no matter how long or how hard this fight may be, what's happening today gives us hope."
He added that the bill passed "despite decades of lobbying and advertising by the tobacco industry."
"We're taking another big and very important step, a step that will save lives and dollars," said Mr. Obama.
A Gallup poll released in conjunction with the bill finding found that a majority of Americans oppose the new law. Fifty-two percent said they oppose the legislation while 46 percent support it, with disapproval particularly high among smokers. (For more on the debate over tobacco regulation, check out this "hot topic" post.)
Mr. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, opposed such legislation. Critics suggest the embattled FDA is not equipped to effectively regulate tobacco.