Get ready for a $14-million statewide advertising blitz warning of smoking's dangers and extolling new programs to aid the state's youngest children.
It is the first salvo from the California Children and Families Commission, created by 1998's Proposition 10 to spend nearly $700 million a year in new tobacco taxes on early childhood development and to fight smoking.
The advertising program comes after months of criticism that the commission and its 58 sister county commissions are virtually invisible and have been too slow in spending the money.
"We haven't had a lot of visibility," admitted actor and director Rob Reiner, the commission chairman, during a break in a meeting Thursday in Orange County. "We are working feverishly to get it done."
The advertising, which will start Tuesday, comes just six weeks before the 50-cent-a-pack tobacco tax faces repeal on the March ballot. Commission members denied that the ad campaign was aimed against the repeal measure, saying its timing coincides with the kickoff of county programs around the state.
"The Proposition 10 media campaign is being driven by what makes maximum sense for providing air support for our county partners," said Commissioner S. Kimberly Belshe, former state health director in the Wilson administration.
The spots will include a statewide toll-free number so parents and caregivers seeking help for their children--ranging from early literacy instruction to asthma treatment--can speak with a counselor and be directed to an appropriate local source, commission spokeswoman Kristina Parham said.
Individual counties are being encouraged to let the state commission carry the burden of advertising costs so they don't drain their program budgets.
The ads will run through May 15 on television, radio, billboards and print media statewide in English and Spanish. The commission has set a formal announcement of the ad roll-out for Monday, but it was discussed at the monthly meeting held at the Orange County Hall of Administration in Santa Ana.
The plan drew immediate fire from Ned Roscoe, owner of a chain of discount cigarette stores and author of Proposition 28, which would repeal the tobacco tax.
"They are eager to do something before the election," said Roscoe, who attended the meeting. "They were worried they would come up to the election and no one would have any idea what Proposition 10 was about."
During the commission meeting, Reiner described the advertising program as "absolutely critical" to get the word out about services available to help children age 6 and younger and to avoid the typical governmental situation where there is "a lot of money in programs but no one is getting the services."
"We have got to get into people's homes," he said.
The commission, which has been holding regular meetings around the state, also approved spending $39.55 million on specific programs to aid children younger than 6. They were the first authorized under the initiative, and more are expected at future meetings.
Those approved Thursday included $6 million to expand training for child-care providers in underserved areas, $7.1 million to train educators in early literacy and provide library vans for inner-city and rural areas, $4 million to provide counselors to steer parents to subsidized and free health insurance programs for children and $6 million to improve treatment and provide medicine for children with asthma.
The state began to collect the tobacco money a year ago. The state commission went into operation last July, first drawing regulations, hiring staff and setting up a technical support center for the autonomous county panels.