The Health Ministry has decided not to hold its traditional No-Smoking press conference on World No Smoking Day (May 31), because there has been no reduction in smoking rates since last year’s 19.4 percent.
The health minister is required by law to present to the Knesset speaker an annual report on the ministry’s efforts to fight smoking, that kills some 10,000 people in the country every year, but it has not yet been completed or released.
The press conference is an annual event that usually accompanies the handing over to the Knesset speaker of the Smoking Report. But the tradition has not been observed by Litzman.
Asked to comment, Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking chairman Amos Hausner – who has been behind all tobacco-prevention legislation in the last three decades – said that the national fight against smoking is “not getting anywhere while it is vigorously going ahead in many countries.
The real problem is that the Health Ministry doesn’t invest anything in information campaigns to fight smoking.
“Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman recently launched a personal campaign to fight the consumption of certain foods, but though some foods are not healthful, people have to eat to live but they don’t have to smoke,” said Hausner, adding that every fifth Israeli is a former smoker.
“Where is the ministry’s priority list?” he asked.
“Why does the ministry try to prevent eating food and not smoking, which is more harmful?” Most countries have banned smoking rooms in all enclosed public places, Hausner said, “but not in Israel.”
“Where there are smoking rooms, there is always smoking. We used to have advanced legislation in the field, but now we are way behind.”
Countries that have banned smoking rooms, said Hausner, have seen a significant reduction in heart attacks within two years.
Although smoking-cessation courses are free and offered in national health services, relatively few are aware of them because the ministry has not publicized their right for such courses.
In 2012, the ministry pushed through legislation to prohibit smoking at outdoor locations, such as bus stops that have a roof, hospitals’ entrances, swimming pools and schoolyards.
However, it failed to issue regulations on signs, so the public remains unaware of the laws, which are unenforced (except for class-action suits).
The ministry has also “failed to advance legislation on the responsibility of Israeli tobacco companies and importers to the health damage they cause, and this means NIS 40 billion that could have entered the health system to cover deficits in the hospitals and health funds, something that did occur in the US.”
Meanwhile, according to a new study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, the New York State Psychiatric Institute and colleagues in Finland, smoking during pregnancy (including secondhand smoking) is associated with increased risk for schizophrenia in children.
The paper evaluated nearly 1,000 cases of schizophrenia and matched controls among offspring born in Finland from 1983 to 1998, who were ascertained from the country’s national registry.
Results showed that a higher maternal nicotine level in the mother’s blood was associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia among their offspring.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, persisted after adjusting for important confounding factors, including maternal and parental psychiatric history, socioeconomic status, and maternal age.
It provides the most definitive evidence to date that smoking during pregnancy is associated with schizophrenia, the researchers said.
“To our knowledge, this is the first biomarker-based study to show a relationship between fetal nicotine exposure and schizophrenia,” said Prof. Alan Brown, an epidemiologist and clinical psychiatrist at Columbia.
Exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy is already known to contribute to significant problems in utero and following birth, including low birth weight and attentional difficulties.
Nicotine readily crosses the placenta into the fetal bloodstream, targeting fetal brain development, causing short- and long-term changes in cognition, and contributes to other neuro-developmental abnormalities.
“These findings underscore the value of ongoing public health education on the potentially debilitating, and largely preventable, consequences that smoking may have on children over time,” said Brown.