Kicking the habit

Exclusive: Percentage of Israelis who smoke reaches all-time low.

By
November 4, 2007 22:40
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The percentage of Israelis who smoke has reached its lowest-ever figure, and a new law is expected to bolster enforcement of no-smoking legislation and reduce the smoking rate even more, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Just 23.3 percent of the adult population light up, compared to 25.5% a year ago, and half of the rate three or four decades ago, according to a survey conducted for the Health Ministry, but which has not yet been published. It was revealed by Amos Hausner, chairman of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking. Hausner drafted the new law that was presented as a private member's bill by Likud MK Gilad Erdan. The law, which passed the Knesset unanimously three months ago and takes effect on Wednesday, makes the owners of all workplaces and public places liable for all smoking violations that occur on their premises - in addition to significantly raising fines for both owners and smokers. Hausner estimates that this is likely to save at least 5,000 lives, as every second user of tobacco is expected to die from smoking. "This is as if we had no lives lost to road accidents in the next 10 years," he says. Hausner, a veteran lawyer who has been fighting smoking for decades, is looking forward to the effective implementation of the new law, which is due to impose heavy fines for such violations. "A Tel Aviv court said that the enforcement of the law by the owner is always in his hands, and if he is determined... nobody will dare to smoke in any public place, including workplaces," he says. The Knesset was united behind the conviction that saving lives endangered by secondhand smoke was by far superior to the narrow interests of some business owners and tobacco companies. The Health Ministry estimates that 12,000 Israelis die of diseases caused by smoking - either their own or others' - each year. The past year was marked by many activities for the prevention of smoking, most of them initiated by individuals and legislators - and only a handful by the government. In July 2006, the Supreme Court accepted an appeal from the Jerusalem Small Claims Court and awarded significant compensation to Irit Shemesh of Karmiel, who was exposed to secondhand smoke in a Jerusalem restaurant. Since then, hundreds of such lawsuits - encouraged by the organizations Avir Naki (www.avir-naki.com) and Linshom (www.linshom.com) - were filed in the country, with compensation varying from NIS 1,000 to NIS 4,000. In one case, Tel Aviv Judge Shlomo Friedlander said smoking in a public place amounted to assault and battery for the victim of secondhand smoke. In a case in Netanya last week, Judge Hadas Ovadiah awarded NIS 3,000 to a person exposed to tobacco smoke at a circumcision. The most serious financial consequence to date was in the case of the Jerusalem restaurant Foccacheta. It agreed in October to grant compensation - in a class-action suit filed by Hausner on behalf of all its customers who were exposed to involuntary smoking - in the form of highly discounted meals to thousands of such customers. The "smoking rooms" that still exist in some Israeli workplaces and public places, including the Knesset, are long gone in the US and Europe, Hausner says. Last month, the Council for the Prevention on Smoking adopted a resolution calling on octogenarian Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri - a confirmed smoker for the last 60 years - to follow the decision of the parties of the 151 countries who ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and eliminate smoking rooms, which Hausner says perpetuate the smoking risk in public places. Hausner called on the Finance Ministry to "stop siding with the tobacco companies. The ministry allocates no funds for tobacco-control education, albeit many requests were made by the former chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee. Last month, the Finance Ministry refused to stop the encouragement of smoking by allowing the sale of millions of duty-free cigarettes at Ben-Gurion Airport, which is responsible for the loss of tens of millions of shekels to the state coffers. If only the Finance Ministry really cared about the health of our people, we would have saved many lives." Meanwhile, Israelis who fume over the lack of enforcement by municipal inspectors of no-smoking rules in public places can take action. The Israel Cancer Association (ICA) has produced detailed Hebrew-language forms on its Web site (www.cancer.org.il) for people to complete and to bombard local authorities with complaints. The ICA called on the vast majority of the public that doesn't smoke, and smokers who believe in observing the law, to fill out forms and provide evidence on the date, time and location of each violation, the failure to post required no-smoking signs and illegal placement of ashtrays (they are allowed only in completely separate and ventilated smoking rooms). Details, such as signs that are intentionally hidden, should also be noted. The person who sends in the form does not have to identify himself. The municipality - which keeps the income from fines - is expected to send an inspector to investigate. The actual fines have not yet been approved by the Knesset Law Committee because the Justice Ministry has not finished its consultation with the Interior Ministry and other authorities. Erdan's bill recommended that maximum fines for a single case of illegal smoking and providing ashtrays be NIS 12,900, with punishment meted out by the courts. Failure to hang no-smoking signs and prevent smoking in public places can cost the owner up to NIS 67,300, according to the recommended fines. The new law is supported by at least 70% of the public, including 52% of smokers, according to a new survey by the the Israel Association for Civil Enforcement. It also found from the representative sample of 500 adults that a third of nonsmokers are determined to complain and demand compensation from owners who do not enforce no-smoking laws. In addition, 98% of smokers said they knew they harmed the health of those nearby. One in 10 smokers said they intended to quit as a result of the new law, and half of all smokers said they would continue to patronize public establishments that enforce the law.


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