WASHINGTON -- President Obama cited his own long struggle to quit the cigarettes he got hooked on as a teenager as he signed the nation's strongest-ever anti-smoking bill Monday and praised it for providing critically needed protections for children.
"The decades-long effort to protect our children from the harmful effects of tobacco has emerged victorious," Obama said at a signing ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.
The president has frequently spoken, in the White House and on the campaign trail, of his own struggles to quit smoking. He brought it up during Monday's ceremony while criticizing the tobacco industry for marketing its products to young people.
Obama said almost 90 percent of people who smoke began at age 18 or younger, snared in a dangerous and hard-to-kick habit.
"I know -- I was one of these teenagers," Obama said. "So I know how difficult it can be to break this habit when it's been with you for a long time."
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.
Obama accused the tobacco industry of targeting young people, exposing them 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 new law bans candy and fruit flavors in tobacco products, and it limits advertising that could attract young people.
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act also allows the FDA to lower the amount of addiction-causing nicotine in tobacco products 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.
"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.