The Knesset Economics Committee voted against passing the second and third reading of a bill amendment that would prohibit the advertisement of tobacco.
The amendment was initiated by the Health Ministry and had strong public support, its advertisement prohibition included newspapers and the Internet.
The ministry lost to tobacco interests on all three major parts of the proposed amendment, which would have also forced duty-free sales of tobacco to be separated from other merchandise and require uniform tobacco packets, stripped of eye-catching designs.
The bill had passed its first reading last year and the preparation for its second and third reading was thought to be automatic. However, tobacco company lobbyists, and MKs on their side, forced a revision of the bill.
The committee, headed by Labor MK Avishay Braverman and a large number of lobbyists from tobacco companies and Hebrew newspapers, decided to revise and water down the bill in the next few weeks, before a new vote is taken.
Health Minister Yael German, who strongly favors the bill, was one of the few MKs present who advocated the amendment.
The committee had previously approved a section that would enable the Health Ministry to decide how cigarette packets, and the warnings against smoking on them, would look. It was decided that the ministry could require a uniform design for all cigarette brands. But Yisrael Beytenu MK Robert Ilatov opposed this at the Monday session and demanded that this section be erased from the proposed amendment.
A vocal opponent of the government bill was United Torah Judaism MK Ya’acov Litzman, who, as deputy health minister had supported the government bill to limit tobacco advertising.
He is not a member of the Economics Committee but had asked to replace another member of his party so he could attend and vote on all the provisions of the state bill.
Others who voted on the side of tobacco interests were MK Ya’acov Margi (Shas) and MK Gila Gamliel (Likud).
German said it was impossible for the government to say that it opposed smoking and, at the same time, not approve tools to fight smoking. “We must prevent all smoking advertisements, including that on packets.”
When Gamliel backed Ilatov, German said that “MK Gamliel also has vested interests.”
In favor of restrictions on tobacco advertising were MK Pnina Tamnu- Shata (Yesh Atid) and MK David Tsur (Hatnua).
Braverman and MK Itzik Shmuli (Labor) abstained.
The committee discussed James Richardson’s request, on behalf of his chain of duty-free stores, to make an exception in the bill for shops like his – to not require that tobacco sales be carried out in a section completely separated from other products.
The ministry, which opposed this, failed to get its way on this section of the amendment as well. Litzman, Tsur, Gamliel, Ilatov, Margi and Yisrael Beytenu MK David Rotem voted in favor of making an exception for duty-free shops with the support of Braverman, Tamnu-Shata, Shmuli and Meretz MK Michal Razin.
Litzman, a Gur hassidic whose movement owns the Hamodia newspaper, proposed that tobacco advertising not be barred from newspapers, but that the print media set aside a third of the space given to tobacco ads to Health Ministry advertising opposing smoking.
Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Ronni Gamzu, who had been appointed by Litzman five years ago, refused to cooperate with such a possibility.
But nevertheless, eight MKs favored Litzman’s proposals – with only three in opposition.
Meanwhile, a survey has found that the public widely supports the prohibition of tobacco advertising in newspapers and on the Internet.
Conducted for the Health Ministry by the Government Publications Office, the study found that 85 percent support the ministry- initiated bill.
Of these, 64% were “very much in favor” of it, 21% supported it “somewhat” and 9% didn’t express a view.
Only 6% said they opposed the ban.
The ministry said on Monday that the participants in the survey were also asked if they were smokers or non-smokers to match their corresponding opinions. Ninety percent of the non-smokers favored such a prohibition, 70% of them were “very much in favor,” 20% “somewhat” in favor, 5% had no opinion and the rest opposed the bill.
Despite the claims of the tobacco company lobbyists that the bill would “harm smokers,” most of the smokers said they “have no problem” with it. Sixty-six percent of the smokers supported barring tobacco advertising in the printed media and on the Internet, with 38% “very much in favor” and 27% “somewhat” in favor. Twenty-three percent had no opinion and the rest opposed.
In 2012, the tobacco companies spent NIS 61.3 million shekels on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorships.
Only 2.2% of newspaper advertising is for cigarettes, and the newspapers earn annually an estimated NIS 6m. from the ads.
About one fifth of the representative sample said they were smokers, 11% of them light smokers, 6% moderate smokers and 2% heavy smokers.
There were no socioeconomic differences between those who favored or opposed the bill.