Silhouetted Israeli soldiers from the Home Front Command Unit take a smoking break during an urban warfare drill inside a mock village at Tze'elim army base in Israel's Negev Desert June 11, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
The minimum age to purchase cigarettes in Israel would rise from 18 to 21, if a new bill sponsored by Knesset members from across the political spectrum passes into law.
The bill was initiated by Dr.
Marc Luria, a Cleveland native who chairs the Committee for the Limitation of Smoking in Israel. Luria succeeded in getting cosponsors for the bill from eight of the 10 factions in the Knesset, purposely four from the coalition and four from the opposition.
Luria managed to unite behind the initiative MKs who do not cooperate very often in Yehudah Glick (Likud), Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), Yael German (Yesh Atid), Ya’acov Margi (Shas), Abdullah Abu Marouf (Joint List), Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi), Miki Rosenthal (Zionist Union), and Tali Ploskov (Kulanu).
“The bill is probably the most important piece of anti-smoking legislation since the passing of the 1983 law against smoking in public places,” Luria said. “It’s primarily meant to reduce smoking among 15-17-year-olds, the ages most smokers start smoking in Israel. Today, a 15-year-old can always find an 18-year-old to buy him cigarettes, but a 21-year-old, even a smoker, will most likely tell him it’s not a good idea.”
Laws raising the age for buying cigarettes to 21 have been passed in four American states – California, Oregon, New Jersey, and Hawaii – and more than 200 cities and counties across America, including Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, and New York. American studies have shown that in areas where it has been passed, the limitation has reduced teen smoking by more than 50%.
Other countries around the world are beginning to adopt the measure, including Singapore, Thailand, Honduras, Kuwait, Samoa, Sri Lanka, and Uganda.
In Israel, studies have shown that 85% of smokers start smoking by the age of 21.
“By restricting smoking before age 21, we hope to reduce the smoking epidemic significantly in Israel,” Luria said. “We hope that this significant legislation will become law before the end of 2017.”
Getting the law implemented could depend on Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, who has repeatedly disappointed anti-smoking activists. When Luria asked him to initiate the bill, he refused, saying that he was busy with other legislation.
“He did not say that he would not support the bill when it comes up for approval in the fall,” Luria said. “In the meantime, I have been in touch with ministry officials who are evaluating the law when it comes up for a vote.”
The bill has been attacked by smokers for letting the state interfere too much in the lives of private citizens.
“The country shouldn’t act like it is our nanny,” said veteran journalist Ruthie Blum. “An 18-yearold is forced to risk and often lose life and limb in battle – but the state says he can’t smoke a cigarette?” Luria responded that smoking is neither a privilege nor a right but an addiction and a burden on society. He said studies in the IDF have shown that smoking rates rise 50% during the three years of army service.
“The IDF is particularly interested in outlawing all smoking, because they know that smoking reduces the ability of the IDF to defend our borders,” Luria said.
“Soldiers who smoke are sick more and are less fit. We hope the bill will significantly reduce the number of conscripts who enter the army as smokers from the current 30%. Once this number is reduced, the IDF can begin to outlaw smoking completely in the army.”
Glick, who is the primary sponsor of the bill, said he believes there is enough support to expedite the bill and pass it. “This is the way the world is going, so we hope the Health Ministry allows us to make it work,” Glick noted.