Health Ministry ignoring smoking prohibitions at covered bus stations

Jerusalem fails to enforce no-smoking law along light-rail platforms.

By
September 12, 2013 21:36
CIGARETTES LITTER the Yefeh Nof light-rail station, two blocks from from Shaare Zedek Medical Center

CIGARETTES LITTERing 370. (photo credit: Judy Siegel-Itzkovich)

Although the Health Ministry got a law passed 14 months ago to bar smoking along the platforms of the capital’s open-air light-rail stations – with each cigarette smoked worth a NIS 1,000 fine – the Jerusalem Municipality hasn’t issued a single fine for such violations since then.

In addition, the ministry’s regulations also prohibit smoking at all covered bus stations around the country, yet ministry officials haven’t required municipalities to post signs at each station stating that smoking is prohibited and making clear where violators are liable to be fined.

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Observers at any of the lightrail stations can at any time see many cigarette butts strewn with discarded fare receipts on the pavement.

The ministry itself estimates that 10,000 Israelis die of smoking each year – 1,000 of them nonsmokers exposed passively to the smoke of others. Nearly 80 percent of Israelis do not smoke.

At the annual press conference presenting the No-Smoking Report required by law to be released by the health minister, ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu regularly bemoans the fact that the laws are inadequately enforced.

In July 2012, Gamzu proudly announced that the law to bar smoking at covered bus stations and at light-rail stations had gone into effect. But since then, the ministry has failed to instruct the country’s local authorities, which have not been given instructions to put up signs at bus stations.

In addition, there has been no enforcement by the Jerusalem Municipality of the law regarding the light rail.

Asked by The Jerusalem Post why the municipality does not enforce the law barring smoking at the train stations, Mayor Nir Barkat’s city spokesman said: “The Jerusalem Municipality enforces laws restricting smoking via municipal inspectors around the city. They carry out inspections in places where very large concentrations of people are, in order to enforce the law.

“Since the no-smoking law – which was expanded to include new public space such as the light rail’s stations, bus stations and the like – came into effect only during the last year, the city prosecutors together with municipal inspectors acted to prepare directives for expanding enforcement, and currently activities are being held to internalize them and apply them in the field.”

Asked why the light rail’s security staff have not been instructed to hand out fines to violators they could catch redhanded along the lengths of the stations, the city spokesman refused to comment.

A personal letter from this reporter to Barkat was received in June but not answered.

The last No-Smoking Report published the fact that the Jerusalem Municipality inspectors handed out a daily average of only three NIS 1,000 tickets (NIS 5,000 for owners of public premises who don’t enforce the law on their property) in the city – even though municipal inspectors in Tel Aviv, with one-third the population – gave out twice as many.

Although Israel Railways broadcasts oral warnings at its own stations that it is forbidden to smoke while waiting for the train (except for designated smoking-permitted areas at the ends of each train), CityPass has not been instructed by the Jerusalem Municipality to broadcast such announcements at its stations, even though it does warn when each train arrives not to leave personal objects there or in the trains.

When the ministry was asked to comment on the failure to enforce the no-smoking laws at the light rail, Haim Geva- Haspil – its official in charge of smoking matters – maintained that “the stations are part of the sidewalk and not defined as a separate entity. It is difficult to define where smoking is allowed, but the prohibition is relatively clear – only on benches where people sit under a roof.

“It is the municipality that is responsible for enforcement and that collects the money for its use. The Health Ministry’s supervision and enforcement branch works in coordination with the Jerusalem Municipality to improve enforcement.”

However, Amos Hausner – the legal expert and initiator behind all no-smoking legislation in the country in the last 30 years and chairman of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking – told the Post that Geva-Haspil’s interpretation of the law was “absolutely incorrect.

The law uses the term “station,” which means anywhere the rail cars stop and take on passengers through many doors, not only where a handful of people wait under a roof for the train, just a few meters on each platform.”

Hausner added that it was “very sad and serious that the ministry and the municipality have not enforced the laws, as citizens learn it is legitimate to ignore laws.”

Hausner has just presented a request to a court to recognize as a class-action suit a NIS 11 million lawsuit he and attorney Amiram Sever have prepared against an outdoor Ness Ziona wedding establishment where the owners did not prohibit smoking, in violation of the July 2012 law.

Sever complained to the ownership, who told him to be quiet because he was “disturbing” party-goers.

Hausner won a case some months ago in a class-action suit against a Tel Aviv club called Bella Shlomkin, whose owners were fined an unprecedented NIS 1.16m. for failing to prohibit smoking inside the club.

“It’s a shame that, due to poor supervision, we have to involve the courts for classaction suits. The Supreme Court has already said that laws prohibiting smoking in public places, including outdoor locations, are important,” Hausner noted.

Told by the Post that Hausner was convinced Geva-Hospil’s interpretation of light-rail prohibitions were wrong, the ministry’s official in charge of smoking issues admitted he was not a lawyer and had not consulted with the ministry’s legal adviser before writing his official comment.

“I will check with them, and if Amos Hausner’s statement is correct, we will ask the Jerusalem Municipality to take action to enforce the law. We will change the regulations if we have to,” Geva-Haspil said.


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