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How fewer people smoking in California is hurting programs that keeps kids healthy

By KOVR Staff

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    SACRAMENTO, California (KOVR) — The number of people who smoke cigarettes in California has fallen dramatically in the last few decades, but that is now creating some budget problems across the state.

Lawanda Wesley raised five kids and took advantage of a parent support program offered by First 5 Sacramento.

Twenty-five years ago, California voters passed a “sin” tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products. That money is distributed to First 5 organizations across the state and pays for efforts to improve the lives of kids in their first five years.

“First 5 supports children’s health, education, they support maternal health, infant health, it supports all things related to early childhood education and development,” Wesley said.

However, as fewer people smoke in California, funding for these programs is now at risk.

“Every year, we’ve had fewer smokers in California, which is a good thing,” said Avo Makdessian, executive director for First 5 Association of California. “Unfortunately, what’s happening now, that revenue stream is decreasing precipitously and it is affecting First 5 early childhood programs.

“This year, because of the flavored tobacco ban, we’re experiencing a 23 percent drop over two years, so it’s a pretty significant cliff.”

Advocates say some First 5 programs could be bankrupt in just a few years.

“Most First 5s only have about 1 or 2 years of fund balance left to continue operating,” Makdessian said.

So First 5 leaders are reaching out to state lawmakers to ask for a $100 million allocation to help keep the programs running.

“We understand it’s a tough budget year,” Makdessian said. “At the same time, these tough budget years are where we feel we need to advocate even louder.”

Wesley is now appointed to Sacramento’s First 5 Commission and hopes she doesn’t have to cut some of the program’s that once helped her own kids.

“We’re grappling with that,” she said.

First 5 organizations are also trying to get money from other sources like philanthropy, fundraising, and cannabis tax revenue.

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