Investigation raises questions about Health Ministry officials

Democracy association asks attorney-general to investigate Litzman’s tobacco/Hamodia ties.

January 11, 2017 20:22
4 minute read.
flu shot

HEALTH MINISTER Yaacov Litzman receives his flu shot from Prof. Itamar Grotto. (photo credit: HEALTH MINISTRY)

The Association for Advanced Democracy on Wednesday called on Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit to open an investigation against Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman and his connections to Hamodia, the daily newspaper of the Ger Hassidim.

In four-part investigative report, Channel 2 revealed that it created a fictitious electronic cigarette company and wanted to know straight from Litzman if the ministry would allow it to import and sell its products. The minister’s chief aide Moti Babchik helped arrange a meeting with two reporters posing as representatives of the company.

The journalists showed videos in which they gave a pair of envelopes with NIS 2,000 in cash each to Hamodia real estate reporter Ya’acov Reinitz, who with Babchik arranged a meeting in only a few days with ministry associate director- general and public health chief Prof.

Itamar Grotto to discuss e-cigs and then with Litzman himself, who said the ministry was “not now dealing” with e-cigarettes.

“I am busy with junk food, not junk tobacco,” Litzman said. Litzman has long been identified with Hamodia and has long represented Ger Hassidism in his United Torah Judaism party. His wife has worked in the party’s archives for many years. Dubek, the Israeli tobacco company, regularly places ultra-Orthodox- oriented tobacco ads in Hamodia, including one on Fridays showing Shabbat beginning and ending times E-cig products have been declared dangerous to health because of their toxic nicotice. E-cig chemicals have killed an Israeli child who drank them.

E-cigs also reportedly spread toxic fumes not only to the user’s lungs but also to those nearby.

Channel 2’s Haim Rivlin, who investigated and presented the story, said that Litzman and Grotto had met previously with representatives of Phillip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco company, and others – even though Israel ratified the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which recommends that health officials in countries that signed it not be allowed to meet tobacco lobbyists and that any meetings held must be made public – which the ministry in Jerusalem did not do.

Rivlin also reported that Erez Gilhar, a lobbyist with the Policy lobbying company headed by Boris Krasny, which represents Phillip Morris in Israel, met with Litzman about the billion-dollar product Iqos, a warmed tobacco product that it wants to market in Israel.

Rivlin maintained that since Litzman has been in charge, the ministry has been weak in pushing the local authorities to enforce no-smoking laws in their jurisdiction. Although the ministry had pushed through the Knesset a 2012 law barring all smoking at the country’s tens of thousands of bus and train stations with roofs over them, it failed to prepare regulations to implement the law, and not a single NIS 1,000 fine has been handed out to any of the many people openly violating it.

The association, an independent nonprofit body, maintained that Litzman had given instructions to his underlings, including his public health professionals, not to take action to reduce smoking by legislation and other measures. In a meeting with Amos Hausner, the chairman of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking, who finally got a 25-minute meeting with Litzman seven months ago, the minister turned down every suggestion he made to prevent smoking, including prohibiting smoking rooms and requiring graphic images of health damage of cigarettes to be placed on packets – measures that are increasingly practiced around the world.

Asked by The Jerusalem Post to comment whether as a result of the Channel 2 reports on Litzman since Monday night, the minister had changed his policy on electronic cigarettes, spokesman Eyal Basson said that “similar to other countries, the ministry is learning and formulating its position regarding the new product [Iqos] in general, how it is defined and in what category it belongs.

The conclusions will be presented to the minister in the coming weeks.”

However, Basson’s answer did not relate at all to the issue of e-cigarettes, such as those that the Channel 2 journalists allegedly produced by the fictional company about which they went to see Litzman and Grotto.

A few weeks ago, the Israel Cancer Association denounced Phillip Morris International for introducing Iqos after investing huge sums and employing hundreds of scientists to work on the project.

The device looks like an electronic cigarette, but instead of using chemicals, it contains non-burning, liquid tobacco heated to 350° centigrade. The heating causes the tobacco to vaporize. The user inhales the nicotine and feels that he is smoking a regular cigarette. E-cigs have not been shown to help smokers kick the habit, said the ICA, and there are reports that suggest their use encourages youngsters to start smoking.

The ICA called for regulation of all tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes and electronic cigarettes.

It demanded that all of the products be limited in advertising, marketing, promotion and media sponsorship, including in social media.

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