Israel lax on WHO tobacco control

Israel among the 95 percent of the world's countries that signed and ratified the 2003 World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

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February 7, 2008 21:28
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Israelis are among the 95 percent of the world's residents of countries that signed and ratified the 2003 World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, but those member states have not implemented many of its important measures. The World Health Organization (WHO) released new data on Thursday showing that while progress has been made in implementation, not a single country fully implements all key tobacco control measures. Dr. Margaret Chan, secretary-general of the WHO, released a major report on implementation which outlined an approach that governments can adopt to prevent tens of millions of premature deaths by the middle of this century. Although Israel has comprehensive smoke-free legislation on the books, it is not solidly enforced in practice by the local authorities. Fifteen countries require all tobacco products to show pictorial warnings on their packaging, but Israel is not one of them. It also does not offer fully available and free smoking cessation courses; only nine countries do. In addition, it allows tobacco ads to appear in the local and international print media that reaches Israelis, at the points of sale of tobacco products and on the Internet, but does not allow tobacco ads on TV and radio or in youth magazines. It has not banned automatic vending machines that sell cigarettes or prohibited the sale of duty-free tobacco products at airports. Israel allows free distribution of promotional material on cigarettes and permits non-tobacco products to be identified with tobacco brand names. Nearly 12,000 Israelis die in an average year from diseases that result from active and secondhand smoking. On Tuesday, The Jerusalem Post sent to Health Ministry spokeswoman Einav Shimron-Greenberg an Internet link to the WHO's embargoed report including data on Israel's performance, which was not allowed for release until Thursday, and asked for comments on Israel's failure to implement many of the clauses. But the spokeswoman said on Thursday morning that ministry officials had still not seen the data. "We are doing the best we can with the available resources to improve implementation of the convention," she said. "Specifically, we are now looking for ways to carry out the demand for setting a national policy. Regarding most of the instructions, including the six strategies, it is not black-and-white, and one can always do better. For example, when raising taxes, when is what a country does considered full implementation? There is no part of the convention that we don't intend to carry out." The WHO report reveals that governments around the world collect much more money in tobacco taxes each year than they spend on anti-tobacco efforts, even though setting high taxes on the product is the single most effective strategy, one that could be increased significantly in nearly all countries. "While efforts to combat tobacco are gaining momentum, virtually every country needs to do more," said Chan, at a news conference with anti-tobacco fighter and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The mayor's private charity fund helped finance the report, which is based on reports from 179 countries. "The report released today is revolutionary," Bloomberg said. "For the first time, we have both a rigorous approach to stop the tobacco epidemic and solid data to hold us all accountable. No country fully implements all of [the] Framework Convention's policies, and 80% of countries don't fully implement even one policy. While tobacco control measures are sometimes controversial, they save lives and governments need to step up and do the right thing." The WHO urges that all signatories of the convention monitor tobacco use and prevention policies, protect people from tobacco smoke, offer help to quit tobacco use, warn about the dangers of tobacco, enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and raise taxes on tobacco. This six-pronged effort is called MPOWER. High income countries collect about 340 times more money in tobacco taxes than they spend on tobacco control. In Israel, only 47% of the price of cigarettes is tax, which is lower than that in many other signatory countries. When a bill by was presented in the Knesset for its preliminary reading that would allow restaurants and cafes to set aside 20% of their area for smokers, backtracking on existing tough legislation, Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri (a heavy smoker) did not even appear for the vote. Chan said that countries that have failed to implement all the sections may lack awareness of the dangers of tobacco, accept the myth that tobacco use is good for the economy, or fear that higher taxes on tobacco will reduce government tax revenues or boost smuggling.


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