Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri will soon present a list of places - such as in the vicinity of schools, cinemas and other places frequented by children and teenagers - where cigarette vending machines may not be installed, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
There are some 650 vending machines selling cigarettes around the country, and none of the machines "demands" to see the purchaser's identity card to check whether he or she is 18 or over.
A 2001 amendment to a law on tobacco sales stated that the health minister must present such a list for approval to the Knesset Economics Committee, and then the prohibitions would immediately go into effect. However, none of the half-dozen health ministers since then has bothered, so even though the sale of cigarettes and hookahs to minors has been on the books since 2004, violations via cigarette vending machines have remained unpunished and the law unenforced.
Ben-Yizri's communications adviser Tal Harel said that "the health minister intends to act energetically to minimize accessibility of youth to cigarettes and hookahs. He will soon present the list of places to the Knesset committee, as required by law." Harel added that the minister will also ask ministry officials for a detailed program within his authority to discourage smoking by minors.
The Gil Pensioners Party MK, who has been in the ministry since the spring and has been smoking for six decades, has not so far declared that he wants to outlaw cigarette vending machines, even though the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to which Israel is both a signatory and ratifier states that vending machines must be outlawed in each participating country - so far 140 ratifiers out of 192 signatories. Eighty percent of the world's population live in these 140 countries, but the US, which has a very strong tobacco lobby, has not ratified the FCTC.
Israel Council for the Preventing of Smoking chairman Amos Hausner said it was a serious failing of the ministry's that it had not prevented minors buying cigarettes from vending machines. "The time has come that cigarette sales be restricted only to shops and kiosks and forbidden via vending machines, as the principle about barring machines in places accessible to youngsters can be interpreted in various ways. It is best to stop it altogether."
According to experts, the average cigarette vending machine sells NIS 30,000 worth per month. The machines have been outlawed in the haredi community of Modi'in Illit solely through activism of local resident Haim Greenberg and community rabbis upset by the sight of children buying cigarettes on their own.
In some countries, such as Japan, cigarette vending machines cough up packets only when a special electronic card - obtainable solely by adults - is inserted. In other countries, only credit cards can be used to operate cigarette vending machines.
Although the FCTC, passed unanimously by WHO members in 2003, prohibits not only vending machines but also the sale of duty-free tobacco products, tobacco advertising in the print media, and the sale of sweets and toys in cigarette form, Israel has not done any of this. It has, however, prohibited the use of "lite" and similar misleading terms for marketing and advertising tobacco products and restricted smoking in public places (although this prohibition remains largely on the books and is too-infrequently enforced) and is thus better than numerous other signatories of the Framework Convention.
The WHO does not have the power to punish members that ignore the FCTC, but every few months there is a conference of country representatives who must report for publication in the protocol what they have done to observe it since the previous meeting. The last such session was in February.