(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
A four-part investigation on Channel 2 that began Monday night and shows aides to Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman taking cash in exchange for meetings between him and a fictional importer of electronic cigarettes have elicited an angry denial from Litzman.
“This is a smokescreen without one sliver of truth,” Litzman’s office said before the broadcast. “This is a well-scheduled and organized campaign by opposition members and others aimed at bashing and hurting the most respected cabinet minister in Israel.”
In the reaction, Litzman’s office did not deny that he met with journalists posing as potential e-cigarette importers after they paid Moti Babchik, a Ger hassid who writes for the ultra-Orthodox daily Hamodia NIS 3,000 in cash.
Litzman said paying an intermediary to arrange for meetings with him and associate director-general Prof. Itamar Grotto was forbidden and that he would investigate it.
Litzman’s statement said he is always open to everyone who wants to meet him and has fought smoking for many years.
Hamodia regularly carries advertisements for tobacco products. In addition, Litzman’s wife has been a Hamodia employee, working in its archives for many years, according to Channel 2 journalist Haim Rivlin, who led the investigation that is being broadcast throughout this week.
Litzman, a Ger hassid, took credit for the “decline” in smoking when he was an MK, deputy health minister and now health minister, even though the rate has remained steady at around 20% of all Israeli adults.
Amos Hausner, chairman of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking and the country’s most prominent lawyer in legislation to prevent smoking, told The Jerusalem Post that seven months ago, Litzman in fact met with him for 25 minutes – several months after Hausner requested to talk to him about ways of reducing smoking.
“I thanked him for meeting me to discuss smoking prevention.
However, I was very disappointed, as Litzman refused all initiatives I raised in the meeting when Prof. Grotto was present, but the minister did not explain why,” Hausner said, referring to the bill for barring advertising in the press, which Litzman blocked as Knesset member after leaving the ministry.
However, Hausner said that in the Knesset discussion of the bill to bar newspaper ads for cigarettes, as shown in the official protocol, Litzman denied the dangers of smoking.
According to the Knesset protocol, the bill was promoted by then-ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu, whom Litzman had appointed, and “Litzman shouted at him” in the Knesset over his initiative, Hausner said.
The veteran lawyer charged that while the ministry under Litzman sponsors media ads against junk food and dealing with dementia, “he never made even one ad against smoking.”
Hausner added that Litzman even opposed barring smoking in playgrounds where children were liable to pick up used butts and smoke them.
The minister prevented legislation that would outlaw smoking in cars where children were passengers, Hausner said, even though closed windows expose them to massive amounts of toxins.
Litzman said a ministry team is working to update legislation to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes, to which Hausner responded that “nothing has been done to stop e-cigs here.”
As for meeting with anyone in the health field, Litzman did not observe the guidelines of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that put strict limits on meeting with tobacco lobbyists and requires publication of such meetings.
During their meeting, Hausner said, Litzman did not accept barring smoking rooms in public places, even though they are being eliminated all over the world. He also said Litzman told him that he is against graphic images of health damage from smoking placed on cigarette packets, arguing that it was “not aesthetic,” and suggested, perhaps in jest, that a “picture of Jerusalem be used instead.”
Hausner said Litzman indeed supported raising tobacco taxes, which actually occurred after his term as deputy minister. But the health minister did not support a recent bill to dedicate 0.5% of the taxes on education on smoking prevention.
“Cigarettes are a business of billions of dollars, so Litzman, so any health minister who opposes basic measures owes the public an explanation why,” he said. “I am still waiting for his explanation, particularly when he claims that he...strongly opposes smoking.”