Jlem smokers1 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Restaurant customers who fume over constant blatant violations of laws barring smoking in public places can take heart - and go to court - following Wednesday's decision by the Tel Aviv Small Claims Court to award NIS 2,000 to a Tel Aviv University student against the Agadir restaurant in Tel Aviv's port for not preventing smoking there.
The judge said he would fine the restaurant the full NIS 2,000 she demanded and that she "even deserved more" - even though she could not prove she suffered any physical harm from the short encounter.
In the first such case, in which Iris Shemesh sued a restaurant for similar violation in 2005, a different restaurant was fined NIS 1,000. Anti-smoking activists, including the voluntary organization Linshom Naki (To Breathe Clean Air at www.linshom.com), say the new case will encourage those who insist on enforcement of the law to file lawsuits against restaurants and other public places that do not prevent their customers from violating it.
According to the law, restaurants, cafes and all other eating places may not allow smoking except in a completely separate, well-ventilated room; if the smoke does not reach the other parts of the eating place; and if the closed smoking area does not take up more than a quarter of the space. In addition, "No Smoking" signs must be posted and maintained in all food establishments.
Hadas Sela, a student who refuses to be around smokers for health and esthetic reasons, entered Agadir with two girlfriends on a late Friday afternoon in January. There weren't any "No Smoking" signs posted, but since there was no separate smoking section, she assumed that smoking would be prohibited as required by law.
When she saw nearby customers light up, she politely asked the chief waitress to tell them to stop, but the woman did not, even though she said she would.
When more customers started smoking, Sela asked them to put out their cigarettes, but they refused, saying they would instead move to another table further away.
Before Sela walked out of the restaurant in protest, she asked for a business card with all the restaurant's details, but she was told there were "none left."
She promptly filed her lawsuit, telling the court that customers who object to smoking often are shy about asking for a "favor" even though the law - based on a large collection of scientific studies showing serious harm to health from secondhand exposure to smoke - is on their side.
A private member's bill putting the onus and heavy fines on establishments that do not enforce no-smoking laws has been bogged down in the Knesset, thus individual lawsuits are regarded by anti-smoking activists as the best way to deter violation of the law and press the Knesset to act.