When California voters in 1998 added 50 cents in new taxes per pack of cigarettes to fund programs helping young children, they didn’t realize what they were in for. The “First 5” agency created by this initiative has had a history that’s part scandalous and part desultory. Tens of millions of dollars were used for political purposes – to promote a 2006 “universal preschool” initiative – prompting a criminal probe and scathing criticism from the media and many state leaders. But far more money has been spent on an unfocused grab bag of programs and publicity campaigns, either at the state level or by county-level First 5 agencies.
Given this history, it’s likely that the San Diego County First 5 Commission’s decision this week to provide $5.7 million for the fluoridation of water supplies in the city of San Diego is the single wisest, most productive use of First 5 funds in California history.
It’s far past time that San Diego lost the dubious distinction of being the largest U.S. city without fluoridation, which has an extraordinarily long and well-documented record of reducing tooth decay. The biggest beneficiaries are young kids in poor families who often have inadequate dental care – just the people First 5 is supposed to help.
Unfortunately, this decision is likely to bring back into the spotlight one of the strangest fringe movements in modern-day America: Groups that maintain fluoridation causes cancer, Alzheimer’s and a long list of other ailments. They do so absent any proof of any kind – and absent any common sense. If fluoridation really amounted to the introduction of a highly toxic substance into water supplies, where are all the body bags?
So our thanks go to Supervisor Ron Roberts and other county First 5 leaders. Here’s hoping the commission finds similarly inspired uses for the rest of its funds.