Ehud Olmert, Haim Ramon and Ephraim Sneh (a physician by profession), three former health ministers, voted on Wednesday against a private member's bill to bar tobacco advertising in the print media and on the Internet. Health Minister Dan Naveh walked out and did not vote, saying he was "in favor" of the legislation but could not vote for it because it was opposed by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation.
The vote in the preliminary reading was 26 for, 29 against, with two abstentions.
"We are disappointed," said Amos Hausner, a veteran anti-tobacco lawyer and head of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking. "It is regrettable that it was not a government-sponsored bill, which would then have passed, especially since the health minister signed and then approved the ratification of the World Health Organization's Tobacco Control Convention that stipulates tobacco advertising is to be prohibited in the print media and on Internet sites." Hausner added that legislatures in the United Kingdom, France, Italy and most of Europe barred such advertising years ago, but the Knesset has not.
The private member's bill, initiated by Meretz MK Haim Oron and Shas MK and former health minister Nissim Dahan, was strongly opposed by Hebrew newspaper publishers who, according to Oron, vigorously lobbied against it in the Knesset out of concern for their loss of tobacco advertising income.
The government can at any time bring up its own bill to bar tobacco advertising in the print media and on the Internet. No comment was available from the Health Ministry on why it has not done so. If the government does not, another private member's bill can be initiated in six months. At present, tobacco advertising is prohibited in the electronic media, on billboards and in youth magazines.
Hausner charged that opponents of the bill aimed at "buying the favor of newspapers," which covet tobacco ad income and tend to write less about the horrendous health damage caused by smoking. When newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post voluntarily stopped accepting tobacco ads, he noted, they started publishing a lot more articles about the harm caused by tobacco.
The vote went largely according to party lines, with Cabinet secretary Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar seen on the Knesset TV channel going from one MK to another trying to persuade them to vote against it and being reprimanded from the podium. Most of the Likud voted against, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, his son MK Omri Sharon (despite his devotion to environmental causes) and MK Moshe Kahalon. Knesset Speaker MK Reuven Rivlin, MK Ayoub Kara and MK David Levy were the only Likud legislators to vote in favor.
Among the supporters were MKs Ilan Shalgi, Benny Elon, Michael Nudelman, Aryeh Eldad (a surgeon by profession) and Effie Eitam and Issam Mahoul. All Meretz and Shas MKs who were present voted in favor of the bill.