WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama cited his own long struggle to quit the cigarettes he took up as a teenager as he signed the nation's strongest-ever anti-smoking bill Monday and praised it for providing critically needed protections for future generations.
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"The decades-long effort to protect our children from the harmful effects of smoking has finally emerged victorious," Obama said during the sun-splashed Rose Garden signing ceremony.
The bill marks the latest legislative victory for Obama's first five months. Among his other successes: a $787 economic stimulus bill, legislation to expand a state program providing children's health insurance and a bill making it easier for workers to sue for pay discrimination.
The president has frequently spoken, in the White House and on the campaign trail, of his own struggles to quit smoking. He did so again during the ceremony, bringing it up while criticizing the tobacco industry for marketing its products to young people.
"I know — I was one of these teenagers," Obama said. "I know how difficult it is to break this habit."
Before dozens of invited guests, including children from the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the president signed legislation giving the Food and Drug Administration unprecedented authority to regulate tobacco.
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act allows the FDA to lower the amount of nicotine in tobacco products, ban candy flavorings that appeal to kids and block misleading labels such "low tar" and "light." Tobacco companies also will be required to cover their cartons with large graphic warnings.
The law won't let the FDA ban nicotine or tobacco outright, but the agency will be able to regulate what goes into tobacco products, make public the ingredients and prohibit marketing campaigns geared toward children.
"It is a law that will save American lives," Obama said.
Anti-smoking advocates looked forward to the bill after years of attempts to control an industry so fundamental to the U.S. that carved tobacco leaves adorn some parts of the Capitol.
Opponents from tobacco-growing states such as top-producing North Carolina argued that the FDA had proved through a series of food safety failures that it was not up to the job of regulation. They also said that instead of unrealistically trying to get smokers to quit or to prevent others from starting, lawmakers should ensure that people have other options, like smokeless tobacco.
As president, George W. Bush opposed the legislation and threatened a veto after it passed the House last year. The Obama administration, by contrast, issued a statement declaring strong support for the measure.
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