Ministers delay vote on bill proposing hefty fines on tobacco companies

“Apparently, the government has something more urgent to do than to prevent the deaths of 8,000 Israelis a year."

January 21, 2018 19:10
2 minute read.

Smoking. (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday postponed, for at least three months, a private member’s bill that could solve the financial problems of the health funds, the health basket, the hospitals, the National Insurance Institute and the disabled, if approved.

The committee neither offered any explanation for the postponement nor issued a statement whether Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Health Ministry representatives were in favor of the bill or not.

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The private member’s bill would enable the authorities to force local and foreign tobacco companies to pay NIS 35 billion to NIS 40b. to cover the huge medical expenses that have been spent on tobacco-related diseases.

The bill, initiated by MK Yael German (Yesh Atid), is supported by 35 MKs from both the coalition and the opposition. It is based on a Canadian law that was passed in 2000 in the province of British Columbia and has been copied by other provinces as well, including Quebec. The Supreme Court referred to the Canadian law as a model in a 2011 judgment regarding the said compensation.

The Israel Cancer Association director-general Miri Ziv remarked that “apparently, the government has something more urgent to do than to prevent the deaths of 8,000 Israelis a year from damage caused by tobacco.”

Dr. Hagai Levine, secretary of the Israel Medical Association’s Society of Public Health Physicians and a leading anti-tobacco voice at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, said the postponement was “very unfortunate. Why does the non-smoking public have to cover the billions of shekels a year that it costs to treat patients who become ill from tobacco-related diseases?” There have been efforts by anti-smoking activists to get such a bill passed for the past 24 years. In the US it took only four years for the courts to require compensation from tobacco companies for tobacco-related medical care to the tune of $245b.

Pinhas Wolf, Shaked’s spokesman, did not respond to comment requests from The Jerusalem Post. Health Ministry spokesman Eyal Basson also did not respond. Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman has been widely criticized by public health experts for his weak stance and little action against smoking.

It has been suggested that the government ignored the bill because it was proposed by German of Yesh Atid, who was health minister before Litzman and is now in the opposition.

Meanwhile, the Knesset’s Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee is due to continue its discussion this week of the possible cancellation of all smoking rooms in restaurants, cafes, bars and institutions of higher learning.

In most countries, smoking rooms have been established so that non-smokers can breathe clean air. Passive smoking kills some 800 Israelis who do not smoke but who are exposed to that of smokers. Toxic chemicals are known to remain on furniture, clothing, rugs and curtains and endanger those exposed to them even a long period after the smoker has left the room.

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