(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Although the smoking rate among Israeli adults dropped in 2009 to its lowest-ever recorded level – 22.8 percent compared to 24.2% in the previous year, there is still much that can be done to lower it further, according to leading smoking-cessation activist and lawyer Amos Hausner.
As required by law, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman presented his annual report on smoking in Israel at a press conference in his office on Sunday. World No-Smoking Day is observed around the globe on May 31.
Litzman, who does not smoke and who noted that his rabbi, the Admor of
Gur, bars smoking in his institutions, said tobacco is terrible.
“Enforcement is the main thing. We have to raise tobacco taxes. Just
two shekels more adds up to NIS 400 million a year, which is what the
addition to the 2010 basket of health services was,” he said.
He said he would speak to Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz about the
need for higher taxes, but he did not state that such new income should
be dedicated to anti-smoking activities and education rather than being
used by the Treasury for its own purposes.
Litzman said he personally opposed requiring cigarette packets to
display graphic images of black lungs and teeth to deter children and
others from smoking, even though this has brought down smoking in many
places around the world. “It is not esthetic,” he declared.
He conceded that while he has been busy examining reform proposals for
dental treatment psychiatric care, his ministry has devoted less effort
to preparing bills of the kind that have lowered smoking rates abroad.
In New York, the smoking rate has dropped to 18%, while in California
and Australia, it is down to 14%.
Hausner – who has been a one-man anti-smoking effort for decades by
proposing legislation and filing lawsuits against numerous property
owners and employers who violate no-smoking laws – said it was hard to
prove what caused the Israeli rate to decline “significantly.”
In 1970, the smoking rate was over 40%, and “we never dreamed it would
be halved,” he said. But there is “much that still has to be done, such
as barring all tobacco advertising, cancelling duty-free sales of
tobacco products at airports and seaports, prohibiting smoking rooms in
public facilities and barring automatic cigarette vending machines.”
He also criticized the ministry for not suing violators of no-smoking
laws. “Why does it leave it to me to do?” he said. “The Health Ministry
must ensure enforcement of the laws and promote more legislation. The
ministry must also sponsor anti-smoking public service announcements,
which it doesn’t do at all. Only occasionally are they funded by
voluntary or private organizations. The law barring the sale of fewer
than 20 cigarettes at a time must be enforced so that children and
teenagers are not encouraged to buy them when they have the money,”
Hausner added. “Smoking should not be allowed in outdoor playgrounds
and bus and train stations and in vehicles with child passengers.”
The statistics, collected by the Israel Center for Disease Control and
other public and voluntary bodies, did not include rates of
(hookah) smoking, but only cigarettes. While
the smoking rate in general has dropped, the rate among young people
and Arab men has actually increased; the number of cigarettes smoked
has not declined; and the rate of tobacco addiction in serving Israel
Defense Forces personnel has remained steady.
Smokers today are very likely to be asked by doctors they consult
whether they want to participate in health fund workshops to stop
smoking and to get subsidized medications to help them quit, according
to the latest statistics, but the workshops and drugs are not yet
According to ICDC head Prof. Tammy Shohat, 67% of smokers reported that
they tried to stop and over 75% of those succeeded for a short time but
returned to the deadly habit.
“Half said they want to kick the habit. About a quarter to a third say
they smoke less since the launching of laws that bars lighting up in
public places,” Shohat said.
Israel Cancer Association director-general Miri Ziv said that there are
a few smokers who don’t get sick, apparently because of some genetic
protection, but there are many who smoke only a couple cigarettes a day
and come down with serious illness. A new ICA survey of a
representative sample of Israeli Jews found that Israelis “are very
disturbed about the health damage caused by smoking.”
Three-quarters of the public know that lighting up just one or two
smokes a day can cause fatal illness. A similar share of those who
responded to the poll said they are worried about a friend or relative
who smokes and is risking his life, while 18% said the smell of smoke
disturbs them, Ziv said.
She added that higher tobacco taxes discourage young people from
smoking, but “not those who are already addicted.” She reported that
only 16 municipalities fulfilled their legal responsibility of
reporting how many fines they handed out to illegal smokers, and that
many are reluctant to hand out fines even though they collect the money
for their own municipal uses.
Ziv called on the Health Ministry to take action against tobacco
companies, which in 2008 spent NIS 50 million on promotion, advertising
and sponsorships of events (32% more than in 2007) even though these
are barred by the World Health Organization’s Framework Agreement on
Tobacco that Israel signed and ratified years ago.