(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
In a precedent-setting ruling, Jerusalem District Court Judge Tamar Bazak-Rappaport on Monday fined Israel Railways NIS 6 million for failing to adequately enforce no-smoking laws at both its outdoor and indoor stations.
The decision also required the company to pay NIS 1 million to the plaintiff’s lawyers and NIS 200,000 to the plaintiffs.
The ruling – with the highest- ever fines in a smoking enforcement case – is likely to serve as a precedent against three entities: Jerusalem’s light rail operator CityPass; the Jerusalem Municipality, which hasn’t given a single fine to smokers at the 23 light rail stations even though it is charged with enforcement; and the Health Ministry, which got a law passed in 2012 to bar smoking in all the country’s roofed bus stations but never prepared regulations for enforcement.
The fine for smoking a single cigarette in public places listed under the law is NIS 1,000.
Asked to comment on the court ruling, the Jerusalem municipal spokesman’s office told The Jerusalem Post
, “The municipality carries out ongoing and quality enforcement against smokers in public places in accordance with its priorities.
It was one of the first municipalities to enforce the laws in soccer stadiums and hospitals.
Enforcement will begin at light rail stations in the next two months by municipal inspectors, of course, in accordance with our priority list and limitations of evidence.”
When asked why the light rail, with 150,000 daily passengers – more than all of Israel Railways combined – was not its first target of enforcement, the office refused to answer.
The latest case was launched by lawyers Shmuel Aharonson and Ofer Levy on behalf of Boaz Elias and Reut Barhad-Goldfarb who grew weary of being exposed – against their will – to passive smoke at Israel Railways stations. It took two years, a relatively short time, for the court to recognize the action as a class-action suit and to rule in favor of the plaintiffs and against the company.
The suit required the plaintiffs to commission a survey of railway passengers on how many had been exposed to cigarette smoke at the stations. In the subsequent polling done by Mina Tzemach, a large percentage answered in the affirmative.
The Rappaport ruling was based on two lawsuits by Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking lawyer Amos Hausner, who won a small claims’ court case against Jerusalem restaurant Focacetta in 2006, and a first-ever class-action suit against a Tel Aviv eating establishment named Bella Shlomkin.
Both restaurants had failed to enforce no-smoking laws in their establishments.
Those precedent cases brought down illegal smoking rates in bars, restaurants and cafes, and have been cited and used as a model in countries around the world. In contrast, today in Israel, unlike in most countries, people and public establishments don’t observe the law and aren’t being fined, Hausner told the Post.
“In this case, according to the numbers of people who had been exposed to smoke at Israel Railways stations, the fine should have been NIS 100 million, but the judge decided to give a NIS 6 million fine for a special fund for smoking-cessation education,” he said.
Hausner added that the 2012 law barring smoking at rail stations, including light rail stations, requires the appointment of officials to ensure that there would be no violations, but this has never been carried out by the capital’s light rail.
The light rail has stickers at small, roofed segments of the stations. It took four years of efforts by the Post try to get the no-smoking law to be enforced by the Jerusalem Municipality and a year to persuade Yaron Ravid, the director-general of the light rail, to place an ongoing electronic warning against smoking on the signs announcing how long it takes for the train to arrive. Only now has the city agreed to send inspectors, and only in the last few months did electronic warnings appear at the train stations.
Since then, that message has gone on and off because, according to Ravid, the electronic signs cannot handle more than one message in three languages at a time. The no-smoking warning was absent for the last three weeks, and after Post efforts, was finally restored on Monday.
Asked why it did nothing to implement its own law barring smoking at all roofed bus stations around the country, The Health Ministry stated that “no regulations are needed” for the municipalities to fine violators at roofed bus stations. But Hausner – the country’s top legal expert on no-smoking laws – said the 2012 law required the ministry to set down regulations on signs, sidewalk areas it covered and other measures to inform the public.
CityPass did not comment by press time.
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