The establishment of a new Health Ministry unit to reduce the effects on health
of tobacco use was approved by the cabinet on Sunday. The ministers also decided
to reduce the number of places where smoking is allowed and to restrict
advertising and marketing of products.
Next month, the ministry will
present legislation aimed at carrying out some aspects of the
Ovadia Yosef calls on faithful to quit
Release delayed of report on how country can cut
However, the Finance Ministry – which collects huge amounts of
taxes on tobacco and has long opposed efforts to reduce smoking such as allowing
a dedicated excise tax to fund public education – has asked for twice the
suggested time – 180 rather than 90 days – to propose a hike in tobacco taxes,
and has not committed itself to allocating NIS 50 million to fund the new
In addition, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman – who at last
year’s No Smoking Day press conference declined to comment on prohibiting
cigarette vending machines and said he would oppose requiring graphic images of
blackened lungs, yellow teeth and other shots of smoking damage on cigarette
packs because they were “not esthetic” – backtracked on Sunday from the new
ministry recommendations against duty-free sales at airports and sea ports,
saying they would not now be part of the reform.
Prof. Greg Connolly, a
senior public health expert at Harvard University who has voluntarily advised
the Israel Cancer Association and other anti-smoking organizations for 25 years,
said at Litzman’s press conference that Israel has fallen behind in reducing
smoking in recent years. Legislation emptied Irish pubs of tobacco smoke not
long ago, without using threats, arrests and fines, as people recognized that
they must observe the new law.
“You won’t smell tobacco smoke there
anymore,” said Connolly.
Years ago, Israel used to import 5.2 billion
cigarettes from the US every year, but despite all efforts to reduce smoking
here, the figure has gone beyond 6 billion, he added, “and that money [the taxes
on profits] will go to pay my pension, even though I don’t
Connolly praised the Israeli public health system as one of the
best in the world, but added: “When it comes to tobacco, you are not last, but
not far from the last,” even though Israel’s early legislation – initiated by
anti-tobacco lawyers and other activists – to restrict smoking in public spaces
was in 1983 “ahead of the world.”
However, these measures were all
initiated as private bills by individual MKs or small groups, but not by the
ministry or the government.
Israel, advised Connolly on a visit, “must
join the rest of the developed world on smoking. This is a cure of heart
disease, lung cancer and other disorders” that kill 10,000 Israelis a year, either through active or passive smoking.
“You have a cure; now
implement it. There is only one group that will suffer from this plan – the
tobacco industry. This will help the Philip Morris company [the leading
tobacco producer and marketer in the US].”
The committee that formulated
the recommendations brought to the cabinet was headed by Health Ministry
director-general Dr. Ronni Gamzu, who was asked by Litzman to take the
assignment. In a few months, he and experts inside the ministry as well as
others outside, such as Israel Cancer Association chairman Prof. Eliezer
Robinson, formulated recommendations. “We are at a crucial crossroads,” said
But anti-tobacco activists on the committee said it was a long way
from making recommendations to carrying them out and reducing the smoking rate,
which according to Gamzu has not budged downward in three years compared to
significant declines in the Western and even the Third World.
Minister Gideon Sa’ar will decide on an experimental plan for smoke-free
schools, at several educational institutions. Environmental Protection Minister
Gilad Erdan will chair a team to formulate a plan to reduce environmental damage
caused by cigarette butts.
Litzman praised the committee for its “fast
“Smoking is terrible,” he said. “It hurts not only the
smoker but also the people nearby. We have not accepted all recommendations,
such as cancelling duty-free sales of tobacco [at ports and airports], but maybe
we will get it later. Some say that it can increase smuggling. In
general, more money raised as tobacco taxes will be able to reduce the cost to
the public of water and gasoline. But the finance minister will decide
Gamzu noted that one of his proposals is to boost smoking
inspection of public areas with a band of part-time student employees who, in
addition to municipal inspectors, would give out fines. Some municipalities,
such as Tel Aviv, are better than others, but there remains much lack of
enforcement of existing laws, the director-general said.
He added that
the high rate of smoking among Israeli Arab men – above 50 percent compared to a
smoking rate of 28% of Jewish men and a 23.3% average of the whole adult
population – “drives us crazy.”
This high rate, leading to many
unnecessary deaths, also drags upward the general smoking rate. “People are
murdered by cigarettes; people commit suicide with their own cigarettes,” Gamzu
Haim Geva-Haspil, the coordinator of the committee who works in
smoking prevention in the ministry, said that the Seminar Hakibbutzim College in
Tel Aviv has become the first in the country to bar smoking on its whole campus,
indoors and out. But in the US, a growing number of university and college
campuses have already prohibited lighting up.
Litzman declined to explain
why he had not announced in his previous two No Smoking Day press conferences
since taking office any legislative initiatives to reduce smoking and urged only
educational efforts among the public, especially the young.
He also did
not say whether Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is formally health
minister, would accept the invitation extended by UN Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon to all presidents and prime minister around the world to attend a
conference on smoking prevention in New York in September.
is known for his fondness for cigars, is scheduled to be at the UN in New York
at the same time to speak at the General Assembly.
Asked to comment by
The Jerusalem Post, Amos Hausner, chairman of the Israel Council for the
Prevention of Smoking – who has worked for the cause for the past 25 years and
kicked it off with a lawsuit that led to the barring of smoking on all flights
to and from Israel, said he was glad to see the official report submitted to the
cabinet, but “it is too little and too late.”
He said that private
initiatives have always been the driving factor behind change in the face of
Health Ministry inaction.
Hausner’s NIS 7.6 billion lawsuit against the
tobacco companies on behalf of Clalit Health Services for compensation for the
health fund’s expenses in treating damage from smoking will finally be heard by
Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia next month, before her
Hausner was disappointed that the committee’s recommendations
do not include control of cigarettes’ contents as a “dangerous drug” and the
possibility of ordering the removal of menthol, nicotine and ammonia from
He also said the committee has not gone as far as Australia an
other advanced countries that have required all cigarettes to be sold in uniform
plain packages and packets, so no brand has an advantage of graphics over
another; this has been proven to reduce sales.
manufacturer Dubek issued a statement on Sunday night protesting the new
“Dubek opposes legislation that significantly
harms Israeli industry while giving foreign companies an advantage. Antismoking
laws throughout the world were formed in coordination with tobacco
manufacturers, while in Israel action is taken aggressively and
disproportionately, trampling on a veteran Israeli company and harming the
livelihood of thousands of people,” the company said.
should realize that for international manufacturers, Israel is but a fly on the
wall. Losses in this country will not hurt them and they have huge advertising
budgets. They should, however, think about the fateful implications for
the last remaining Israeli tobacco maker. Dubek has never resisted decisions
aimed at curbing the number of smokers.”