MKs blast Litzman for allegedly protecting tobacco giant Philip Morris

Knesset War on Drugs Committee demands strong restrictions on all cigarettes.

March 21, 2017 04:23
3 minute read.

A Philip Morris stand promoting the tobacco company’s iQOS electronic cigarette product is seen on Jerusalem’s Kanfei Nesharim Street on March 20, 2017. (photo credit: JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH)


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As Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman attended an innovation conference in China with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, he was attacked in a Knesset committee for his “intervention on behalf of the tobacco industry.”

Knesset War on Drugs Committee chairman MK Tamar Zandberg, MK Yehudah Glick and others demanded strong restrictions on cigarettes, including Philip Morris’s iQOS “warmed-tobacco” cigarette that Litzman allows to be sold without any restrictions.

Health Ministry associate director-general and public- health expert Prof. Itamar Grotto, who had been present in Litzman’s meetings with tobacco lobbyists including those from Philip Morris, covered for his boss by saying the minister is “waiting until the US Food and Drug Administration rules on iQOS” before deciding what to do with it.

Grotto said Philip Morris is interested in “moving cigarette smokers” to iQOS. However, public-health advocates insist that no serious research has shown that the electronic product weans smokers away from conventional cigarettes or is not itself harmful.

The Israeli spokesman for Philip Morris commented: "IQOS heats the tobacco rather than burning it, resulting in an average reduction of about 90% in the levels of harmful chemicals and potentially harmful chemicals in the aerosol in comparison with cigarette smoke. Based on the scientific evidence, a complete transition to IQOS may present less risk than continuing smoking cigarettes and therefor it is a better choice than smoking. IQOS has been launched in over 20 countries around the world and more than 1.4 million adult smokers have converted to it. The company has applied to the FDA to approve marketing of the product as a reduced risk product. In the United States, the marketing of new tobacco products requires prior approval, and for this reason alone, the product has not yet been marketed in the United States and it has not been banned. Philip Morris Ltd. Is marketing the product in Israel in a responsible manner to smokers over the age of 18 only, and is placing a warning on each pack. The Company denies any claims that it is in any way addressing to minors. In any case where there is even the slightest doubt, the company's representatives check an identity card. The product is not intended for minors under the age of 18, it says so on the packages and we are acting accordingly."

A Knesset research department report disclosed at the committee session showed that limitations on advertising and marketing of tobacco products lead to a decline in smoking.

Israel, the researchers said, is one of the “most lenient” countries in advertising and marketing cigarettes in the world,” even though, decades ago, it was one of the most advanced in antismoking legislation.

“Why are we discussing this when it is clearly a tobacco product? We wait, and in the meantime, we see Philip Morris is running a campaign to penetrate the market of teenagers, into social networks, trying to produce new smokers,” Zandberg said.

“Even if the minister is a criminal, we don’t have to be partners to crime,” said MK Miki Rosenthal. Zandberg refused to let tobacco company lobbyists enter the hall. “About iQOS, the default must be that this is a tobacco product. Nowhere in the world except in Israel is it allowed to be marketed without restrictions.” But the health minister has allowed this, she said. “Israel has entered a coma regarding all restrictions on cigarettes.”

MK Yael German said that “those youngsters we managed to prevent from smoking when we limited advertising of conventional cigarettes are now getting hooked” on products like iQOS that are not restricted.

Glick argued that Litzman wants to “forbid junk food but not this?” Dr. Hagai Levine of the Israel Medical Association said that Philip Morris “is producing a product that kills people, and we serve them. There is no country in the world that allows iQOS to be marketed without restrictions. There is no proof that it is less dangerous to the public. It is addictive.”

Shabi Gatenu of the Israel Association for Advance Democracy called on Grotto to resign. “The excuse that we are dependent on the FDA is nonsense. You should be ashamed and quit,” he declared. “You are a weak guard and don’t protect us.”

Gatenu’s organization, which is suing Litzman for his decision on iQOS, said it received a restraining order and “in six days the ministry must answer us. We hope someone will get Litzman to drop his position, and the lawsuit will be unnecessary.”

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