IDF soldiers share cigarettes while resting in the shade.
(photo credit: FINBARR O'REILLY / REUTERS)
The IDF is stomping down on smoking and will stop selling cigarettes at 56 open bases across the country beginning November 1.
“The risk of smoking in the IDF is high,” Brig.-Gen.
Meirav Kirshner, head of the army’s Manpower Directorate, said Sunday, noting that more than 2.5 million cigarettes and other tobacco products are sold each year in canteens on IDF bases.
While cafeterias, lecture halls, offices and other enclosed public areas are all designated as mandatory smoke-free areas – and soldiers caught smoking in them face disciplinary action – new guidelines will see more stringent measures taken against those who are caught breaking the new guidelines approved by Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.
The new policy follows a long series of discussions on the recommendations of the Israel Medical Association and the Israel Cancer Association.
“The IDF plan, which comes following the public and political pressure we exerted on the Knesset’s drug committee, is nothing less than a revolution,” said MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), chair of the Knesset Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
“Cigarettes, which until now were a mandatory item in canteen stores, will now be removed from them because of the chief of staff’s involvement, which may be unpopular but extremely important.”
According to Zandberg, Eisenkot’s decision is a role model for the health and finance ministers who continue to dally over the treatment, which takes the lives of some 8,000 Israelis each year.
According to IDF data, the percentage of smokers among IDF recruits in 2016 was 25% for men and 15% for women.
A recent study into smoking patterns in the IDF found that the prevalence of smoking increases 40% during compulsory military service.
The decision, which was made by the Personnel Division along with the IDF Medical Corps, aims to prevent smoking and to create an environment that encourages soldiers to quit.
In July, Col. Alon Galzberg, who heads the IDF’s Medical Corps, said Eisenkot wants a smoke free IDF.
“We understand that something that harms the health of soldiers is harmful to the IDF’s combat ability,” he said during a special discussion in the Knesset as part of the “Healthy, non-smoking Israel” campaign.
The army regularly disseminates anti-smoking information but, according to Kirshner the campaign is not only for those who smoke, but for non-smokers who want to breath clean air. Some 80% of non-smokers claimed to have been exposed to cigarette smoke in 2016.
Under the new plan, areas where smoking is permitted will be defined more clearly and will be more restricted, while smoking in any other areas will be strictly prohibited and criminalized. According to Kirshner, any soldier who is caught smoking outside of the defined areas will be prosecuted and punished according to the circumstances, facing penalties from a warning to jail time, and in some cases even harsher punishment.
In addition, cigarettes will not be allowed to be given as donations to soldiers, and commanders will be prohibited from smoking in the presence of their subordinates.
As part of the new guidelines, every soldier – both in compulsory service and career service – will be able to participate in programs aimed at helping them quit smoking.
The IDF will open a database of all smokers in the army, and each new conscript will be asked on his/her first day at the induction center whether he/she smokes.
“To the chief of staff, smoking has a negative effect on the army. It affects the soldiers’ fitness – smokers take more sick days,” said Kirshner, stressing that the new guidelines are “only about the health of the soldiers.”