Recently I returned home from two weeks of IDF reserve duty in an isolated
outpost the Jordan Valley. I drank a lot of water to protect myself from
dehydration, read numerous books to keep boredom at bay, and applied sunscreen
to protect myself from the scorching sun. While thankful that my service ended
uneventfully, one hazard that I was unable to protect myself from was the danger
of second-hand smoke.
Anyone who has spent time in the IDF is familiar
with how smoking and military service seemingly go hand in hand. At the army
canteen (shekem) one sees 18-yearold conscripts buying packs of cigarettes, army
bases are littered with cigarette stubs, and allowances are even made for
“smoking breaks.” Israel has made some impressive strides in curbing smoking,
yet the statistics show that further progress is improbable without confronting
the prevalence of smoking in the IDF.
A completely informal poll among my
fellow reserve soldiers revealed that many of them either began smoking or
became heavy smokers during their mandatory service.
This is corroborated
by Health Ministry statistics showing that whereas only 29.8 percent of male
soldiers inducted in 2011 reported smoking, that figure rose to 37% for those
completing their service, with a similar rise reported among female
Even those who manage to stop after finishing their mandatory
service frequently revert to smoking again during reserve duty, though they
promise to stop immediately upon returning home (for the sake of the
AS A society we have failed our youth.
unconscionable to place 18-year-olds, still children in many ways, in a high
pressure, high intensity, high stakes environment, where smoking is the norm and
where strong pressure is exerted to smoke and be “one of the guys.” The IDF is
not working to combat this phenomenon and this failure continues to afflict
these young soldiers, now addicted smokers, long after they have left the
The cost to the individual soldiers, the IDF and the State is
Those who smoke turn into less healthy soldiers and as they age
a huge burden is placed on the health infrastructure of the state.
time for the IDF to confront the challenge of smoking among its troops. A
concerted multi-year campaign needs to be waged to highlight the multiple
dangers of smoking, and to encourage and assist those who wish to
The IDF, like the US military, needs to set for itself the goal of
a “smoke-free military.”
Army canteens do not need to stock cigarettes
and the army should be more responsive to the needs of soldiers who wish to
avoid second-hand smoke.
A MORE radical proposal would be to raise the
legal cigarette purchasing age from 18 to 21. Some might claim that we cannot
give 18- year-olds weapons, and not trust them to make an educated decision
Yet the addictive power of nicotine, the stressful
conditions of the army, and the long-term adverse health effects of smoking
compel us to consider raising the age to 21, which would substantially reduce
smoking amongst conscript soldiers.
Ultimately the very culture of the
IDF must change. This is not something that can be accomplished easily, but the
IDF must prioritize the health and welfare of its soldiers.
deserve no less.
The writer is the director of Perspectives
Israel. He also works at Shatil. He has a master’s in International
Relations from the London School of Economics.