Although the Health Ministry authored a bill passed into law in 1983 setting a NIS 226,000 fine for anyone who hands out free tobacco products, when tobacco companies and individuals began to send gifts of cigarettes to soldiers in Gaza, it allowed it. The ministry’s official statement to The Jerusalem Post when queried on the issue was that “the ministry will not prevent the transfer of cigarette packages to soldiers in Gaza. At the same time, it believes that it’s wrong for [tobacco companies] to advertise their products on the backs of soldiers.”
But the Israel Cancer Association came out in opposition of sending free tobacco to soldiers and tried to get the Health Ministry to bar the shipment on Wednesday. The chairman of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking, Amos Hausner, also strongly opposed it, saying that “non-smoking soldiers will come back from the front addicted to tobacco. “
The Dubek company has in recent days paid for large newspaper ads wishing soldiers well and, showing Israel Defense Forces helmets, equated patriotism with smoking.
The Post learned that two senior Health Ministry officials in charge of health promotion and the battle against smoking, when asked about their recommendations on the soldier issue, got cold feet. One woman official stated: “I think it is problematic to preach good health at a time of war,” wrote one. The second wrote: “I don’t think this is the ideal time to deal with this matter... A public call by the ministry [not to contribute cigarettes to soldiers on the battlefield] could be understood by the public as an extreme and pretty stance, and I will not recommend it,” he said. These same officials have regularly stated to the press that they have succeeded in lowering the smoking rate in young people, including soldiers.
Israel is at least two decades behind the US on this issue, commented Hausner. “The 1983 law’s stipulation prohibiting gifts of tobacco was badly written by the Health Ministry -- and never once enforced. Experience shows that after times of war, the amount of smoking rises, partly due to a lot of effort by tobacco companies to identify smoking with patriotism. It is important that non-smoking soldiers, who are the majority, return home without becoming addicted to deadly tobacco.”
Hausner, a prominent lawyer in the fight to prevent smoking, added: “The smoking rate in Israel has been reduce to below 19%, but as soldiers try smoking, it could rise steeply. All the work we have done in recent years could be lost.
In the first Gulf War of 1991, the US government barred the sending of cigarettes to soldiers half a world away. Even though soldiers were in Saudi Arabia for months on end, the smokers among them managed without getting free tobacco. The same policy was continued in the second Gulf War and since then. But the Israeli government “does nothing,” Hausner said.
During a Radio 102 FM sports broadcast a few days ago, the director-general of the company that sells Marlboro cigarettes was invited to speak and suggested donating 60 bags of tobacco so soldiers could make their own cigarettes. The Israel Cancer Association opposed the shipment, but the Health Ministry, as noted above, declined to do so.
According to published research in the US, the Tobacco Institute, which served as the tobacco industry's lobbying organization, and Philip Morris perceived these new tobacco control initiatives as a threat and conceived strategies to circumvent the government policies.
Realizing the opportunities of a worldwide military market due to the young demographics of military personnel and the smoking initiation associated with new recruits, the Tobacco Institute, Another incentive for the tobacco industry to protect its military market was the recognized phenomenon that consumer product preferences developed during years serving in the military would later translate into civilian market profits as service members left the military or retired.