Some 19.8 percent of Israelis over the age of 21 smoked in 2014, according to the annual Smoking Report issued by the Health Ministry for publication on Sunday morning. However, significant numbers of younger people, especially of army age, also smoke.
An estimated 8,000 Israelis die each year of tobacco-related causes, among them 700 non-smokers exposed to others’ smoke.
Annual estimated costs of smoking – including medical treatment, unproductive work, sick days and insurance – total NIS 12.8 billion. Israeli smokers spent NIS 8.2b. on the addictive, toxic products that go up in smoke.
The figures were released to mark World No-Tobacco Day, May 31.
Until MK Yael German became health minister, the issue of the Smoking Report was always marked with a press conference attended by ministry experts, representatives of the Israel Cancer Association and others. But in her two years in the job, she canceled the event, and now Deputy Health Minister MK Ya’acov Litzman also has not scheduled a press conference to mark the event. The health minister is bound to present such a report each year to the Knesset.
The ministry said that the Central Bureau of Statistics’ Social Survey found that the smoking rate in 2013 was 23.1%, but the same year, the Survey on Knowledge, Positions and Health Behavior in Israel said the rate was 18.7%.
Men are more likely to smoke than women – 27.3% compared to 12.6% – while Arabs (especially men) are more likely to smoke (26.3%) than Jews (18.4%). More than half of men (Jewish and Arab) who smoke admitted that they lit up between 10 and 20 times a day, but about 40% of women who smoke light up fewer than 10 cigarettes a day.
The Israeli male smoking rate is a bit lower than the average 28.5% rate of male smokers in the European Union, while the rate for Israeli women is significantly lower than for their counterparts in the EU (17.7%).
Passive smoking – non-smokers regularly breathing in others’ tobacco smoke – is widespread, with 35% of Israeli non-smokers saying they were exposed to others’ cigarettes. About 30% of Jewish and more than half of Arab non-smokers were unwillingly exposed to others’ smoke, mostly at home (women) and at workplaces (men).
Among poor families, buying tobacco products often represents about a quarter of the household’s income, thus harming their nutritional security and enlarging the health gap between smokers and the rest of society, the report said.
All four health funds offer free workshops to kick the habit, and some add personal or phone or Internet counseling for smokers who want to give it up.
In addition, those participating in smoking-cessation workshops can purchase prescription drugs and nicotine-replacement products to help quit at an 85% discount.
As dropping the habit and staying off it are especially difficult when attempted alone, workshop participation is regarded as more effective.
Last year, 26,818 smokers participated in health fund workshops, and two-fifths were smoke free a year after taking part.
Tobacco products contain up to 7,000 substances that can be identified when they are being burned and inhaled; 350 of them are toxic to humans, and 70 are recognized as causing cancer in humans. They are also highly addictive – more than many hard drugs, the ministry said, noting that there is no other substance allowed for sale to the public that is not only toxic and carcinogenic but also addictive and delivered directly via the lungs to circulating blood.
Among the substances in tobacco are chemicals aimed at harm people’s natural protective systems, such as reducing the drive to cough. Various chemicals are added to make cigarettes more addictive and attractive to youngsters, who replace the tobacco industry’s customers who have died from consuming their products, the Smoking Report said.
Cigarette filters are designed by their manufacturers to maximize nicotine absorption, and by adding ammonia, the sharp taste is reduced, making it easier for smokers to use them and thus get more addicted and purchase and use more. Most smokers say they want to quit – and most have tried several times, the report said. Most smokers regret smoking their first cigarette, usually as a teen.
The Health Ministry’s tiny department for the prevention of smoking was set up in 2013 to take action for enforcing no-smoking laws and supervising their implementation, but it is legally the task of municipalities and local authorities to ensure that they are carried out.
While smoking is illegal today in buses, taxis, elevators, health fund clinics and certain other locations, the law is regularly violated in many places such as pubs, cafes and on the platforms of Jerusalem’s Light Rail. A 2012 amendment that barred smoking at roofed bus stops has not been enforced anywhere in the country, because the ministry has failed to issue specific regulations for it.
A 24-year study of smoking among 50,000 Israel Defense Forces draftees that is headed by Tel Aviv University’s Dr. Leah Rosen found that 31% of them and 25% of the women smoked when they entered military service. Boys start smoking at around 15 and girls at 16, the study found, and the poorer the parents, the more likely youth are to smoke. Being of Russian origin and being religiously observant also makes it more likely that youth start smoking.