Media Center



March 18, 1999 - Washington, DC

Senators, Ministers, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am pleased to welcome all of you to the House of the Americas. This hall has witnessed many a historic moment. It has served as the starting point of numerous initiatives, over the years, that have shaped the destiny of the Western Hemisphere. I sincerely hope that your work will serve to improve the lives of future generations in the Americas, and around the world.

I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate Senator Durbin, Senator Collins and Senator Wyden for their strong personal commitment to bringing you together on a topic that has a direct impact on the quality of life of each of our young people. The OAS is honored to be the site of these deliberations to develop a strategy to fight tobacco use among children throughout our societies.

I will spare you the litany of statistics since this morning’s presentations provide plenty of evidence that the time to act is now. Your presence offers dramatic proof that the international community is ready to tackle this problem.

Control of the tobacco epidemic throughout the world is of increasing concern, made only more urgent by the relentless increase in the number of minors who smoke. As the title of your conference suggests, your deliberations will outline a policy for the global community to follow.

A policy of "just saying no" is good, but not enough. We need programs to encourage our youth to protect themselves . We need incentives to expand our ranks in the fight to undermine the cynical commercial drive to turn our children into new smokers. We need consensus to shift the burden squarely onto the shoulders of all those who would prey on them to sell cigarettes. We need the right policies to raise awareness of, not only the present hazards, but also of future societal costs implicit in tobacco consumption among our youth. In short, tobacco has become a priority problem for our children, and, we need your leadership.

Working with PAHO and the rest of the inter-American system, the OAS can also address these kinds of pressing issues. For instance, three years ago we led the world in the drive against corruption by adopting a landmark agreement, known as the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. More recently, an agreement was signed, in this very room, to stop trafficking of small weapons and ammunitions. On other occasions, our countries have resorted to other legal instruments, such as international declarations, to show their determination in the face of such problems and abuses. Drugs and terrorism are two very recent and compelling examples. As the preeminent hemispheric political forum in the Americas, we are ready to facilitate any regional agreements that prove to be necessary.

At this time, I am honored to introduce to you Senator Wyden whose successes, in this field speak for themselves. You will also hear from Secretary Donna Shalala of the United States Department of Health and Human Resources, Secretary Shalala has presided over a fundamental shift in attitude among her compatriots toward tobacco. We are very lucky to have Senator Wyden and Secretary Shalala to help launch a global effort to free our children from the grips of Tobacco.

Thank you.