By Sam Youngman - 06/22/09 04:38 PM EDT
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs continued to play coy about whether Obama still sneaks a cigarette, but Obama noted that almost 90 percent of smokers began "at or before their 18th birthday" and that he "was one of those teenagers."
The new law, which passed both houses of Congress overwhelmingly, gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate the content and marketing of tobacco products.
In describing the legislation, which he said "represents change that's been decades in the making," the president spoke most about how tobacco companies have targeted younger demographics through advertising and other gimmicks.
"They're aggressively targeted as customers by the tobacco industry," Obama said. "They're exposed to a constant and insidious barrage of advertising where they live, where they learn and where they play. Most insidiously, they are offered products with flavorings that mask the taste of tobacco and make it even more tempting."
The president was joined by several members of Congress as he signed the bill, including Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who first challenged big tobacco companies in the 1990s when the companies denied that they were aware of the harmful and addictive qualities of smoking.
"Fifteen years later, their campaign has finally failed," Obama said. He added: "And today, despite decades of lobbying and advertising by the tobacco industry, we've passed a law to help protect the next generation of Americans from growing up with a deadly habit that so many of our generation have lived with."
Among other provisions highlighted by the president, the new law will ban advertising within 1,000 feet of schools or playgrounds, disallow "appealing flavors" for tobacco products and "allow the scientists at the FDA to take other common-sense steps to reduce the harmful effects of smoking."