Health Ministry can't cough up funds to promote smoking ban

Ministry deputy director-general says budget "has been almost completely used up" for 2007.

October 11, 2007 23:10
4 minute read.
smokers1 298

Jlem smokers1 298. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Although a law expected to be the biggest boon to the legislative battle against smoking in many years goes into effect on November 7, only a minority of the population knows about it - and the Health Ministry says it has no money for a media campaign to explain it to the public, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Asked what the ministry will do to promote observance of the new law, the ministry deputy director-general for information, Ya'ir Amikam, said his budget is officially set at the beginning of the year, "and it has been almost completely used up" for 2007. "I imagine that the wide publicity" that the media will give the new law "will bring about a significant drop in the number of smokers in public places, almost like a [state-funded publicity] campaign," he said. Under the law - initiated by Council for the Prevention of Smoking chairman Amos Hausner, presented as a private member's bill by Likud MK Gilad Erdan and passed unanimously by 33 MKs in the plenum on its final reading in July - owners of public places will have to enforce no-smoking laws on their property, and municipalities will be required to establish a round-the-clock hotline to accept complaints. The Law for Preventing Smoking and Exposure to Smoking in Public Places aims to improve the quality of life for the 75 percent of the population that doesn't smoke. The law recommends a fine of NIS 5,000 every time owners fail to prevent customers from smoking on their premises. If a fine is ignored, it can grow to a maximum of NIS 67,500. Similar fines will be levied for failing to hang the required number of "no smoking" signs. The smoker himself will, according to the recommendations, also pay a NIS 1,000 fine for each violation, instead of the current NIS 310. The law will also prohibit putting ashtrays or similar objects in public places, with a fine of NIS 1,290 for each ashtray. Proceeds from the fines will be pocketed by the municipalities and local authorities, but the actual sums still have to be formally approved by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Under the existing, frequently unenforced law, smoking in public places is permitted only in separate and ventilated rooms that are not used by nonsmokers, on condition that the space is less than a quarter of the whole premises and only if the owner wants a smoking room. But few municipalities have bothered to enforce it. Meanwhile, the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking voted on Sunday to recommend to Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri that all smoking rooms be eliminated, and that people who want to smoke in public places be required to go outdoors, like in the US. Haim Geva-Haspil - a health educator in ministry's department of health education and promotion, is in the final stages of preparing a Hebrew-only booklet to be distributed to thousands of owners of restaurants, cafes, wedding halls, pubs, malls and other public places around the country. "We want them to understand their obligations," said Geva-Haspil, who until recently was an antismoking activist in the Israel Cancer Association. "We will put the booklet up on our Web site." The material will be only in Hebrew in the meantime, he said, as "most owners speak Hebrew. It will take time to translate." Geva-Haspil said his department was also organizing a Tel Aviv seminar for local authority representatives, due to be held soon to encourage them to enforce the law, as the financial benefits are great. The local authorities, according to the law, will have to send the ministry annual reports on what they are doing to enforce the new legislation. The volunteer organization Avir Naki (Clean Air) said that if local authorities and the owners of public premises failed to implement the law, the group would take them to small claims court - an action that in the past has won up to NIS 4,000 per complaint in fines against restaurant owners. They now have the option of suing the municipalities as well. On Thursday, Petah Tikva Magistrate's Court Judge Aharon Makover ruled that a local restaurant owner who did not prevent smoking on his premises had to pay NIS 4,000 to plaintiff Avi Dubitzky. Earlier this year, the Israel Cancer Association financed an antismoking effort for which the Health Ministry said it had no money to contribute, but the association has not yet found cash to finance a public advertising campaign explaining the new law, as it costs millions of shekels. Asked to explain what it would do to enforce the law, the Jerusalem Municipality spokesman said that the 106 hotline was open around the clock to receive complaints on smoking violations. City inspectors have already handed out 1,000 fines in the last half year. All complaints are passed on to the city's inspection division, which "initiates patrols in various shopping malls and hospitals and also responds to callers' complaints." Nevertheless, the Post continues to receive many complaints from Jerusalemites about illegal smoking in shopping malls such as the Central Bus Station, which is visited by tens of thousands of soldiers who smoke, and in wedding halls such as Ganei Ora, where ashtrays are placed on tables.

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