WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton today urged Congress to pass tough legislation on regulating tobacco, despite House Speaker Newt Gingrich's prediction that such a bill didn't have much of a chance. ``We are fighting for the lives of our children,'' the president said.

In a statement in the White House Rose Garden, Clinton said he hopes Gingrich, R-Ga., would change his mind and support the legislation. The speaker said during the weekend that the tax increase and new regulatory power proposed in the bill made it too liberal for the conservative-dominated House to accept.

``Before his recent comments, I had been encouraged,'' Clinton said. ``He basically said he would not permit us to take a stronger position than he did. I certainly hope he will return to his former position. We need everybody working together.''

The legislation, which passed the Senate Commerce Committee on a 19-1 vote, would codify a settlement reached last year between the tobacco industry and state attorneys general to help states recover the costs of treating smoking related illnesses and help tobacco companies shield themselves from future lawsuits.

But the bill, as proposed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., would cost cigarette makers an estimated $516 billion over 25 years, much more than the amount of the settlement. Tobacco companies claim the cost would be tens of billions of dollars higher and oppose the measure.

The president decried the industry's reversal, saying the entire country has a responsibility to put a stop to ``predatory practices by tobacco companies that have targeted our children.''

``The tobacco industry seeks, once again, to put its bottom line against our bottom line,'' Clinton said. ``We are fighting for the lives of our children. I believe the majority of American people and, indeed, the majority of Congress ... will see this for what it is: a tobacco industry smokescreen.''