WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama - pronounced tobacco-free in his latest medical checkup - has tough words for cigarette makers.
Some tobacco companies, he says in a new White House web video, are fighting new cigarette warning labels because “they don't want to be honest about the consequences.”
The video, provided to The Associated Press in advance of its release, observes Thursday's 36th “Great American Smokeout” by the American Cancer Society.
Obama says the U.S. has made progress in reducing the number of Americans who smoke but notes that 46 million are still addicted.
“The fact is, quitting smoking is hard,” he says. “Believe me, I know.”
Obama has fought the habit by chewing nicotine gum, and his last medical report, issued Oct. 31, declared him tobacco-free.
“Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable early deaths in this country,” Obama says in the video. “We also know that the best way to prevent the health problems that come with smoking is to keep young people from starting in the first place.”
In 2009, Obama signed legislation to help keep young people from lighting up. In June, the Food and Drug Administration approved new warning labels that companies would have to place on the top half of cigarette packs. Some of the labels are powerfully graphic and include images of a man exhaling cigarette smoke through a tracheotomy hole in his throat, the corpse of a dead smoker, diseased lungs and a smoker wearing an oxygen mask.
Companies led by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. sued the FDA in August to block the labels, arguing the labels cross the line from fact-based warnings to anti-smoking advocacy. R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard declined to comment on the Obama video. Altria Group Inc., parent company of Marlboro maker Philip Morris USA, is not in the lawsuit.
Earlier this month a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction in the suit, blocking the requirement that would have begun forcing tobacco companies next year to put graphic images on their cigarette packages. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said it is likely the cigarette makers will succeed in their suit to block the new standard.
“Today, some big tobacco companies are trying to block these labels because they don't want to be honest about the consequences using their products,” Obama says. “Unfortunately, this isn't surprising.
“We've always known that the fight to stop smoking in this country won't be easy.”
In the video, the president directs viewers to the Health and Human Services Department website, www.hhs.gov, which has links to resources that can help smokers quit and highlights government efforts to prevent young people from lighting up.
AP Tobacco Writer Michael Felberbaum in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report