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A private member's bill that would fine owners of establishments NIS 5,000 for each smoking violation on the premises was passed on preliminary reading by the Knesset plenum by a 17 to 1 vote.
The only MK present who opposed the bill - which was presented by Likud MK Gilad Erdan - was Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee chairman MK Moshe Sharoni of the Gil Pensioners Party whose committee may be chosen to prepare the bill.
The bill has received the strong backing of Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, also of the Gil Party. It was not known why Sharoni opposed it, but there were reports that he and Ben-Yizri have feuded since Sharoni lost to Ben-Yizri in the bid for a minister's post, and Sharoni has frequently attacked Health Ministry positions as head of his committee since then. Sharoni was not available for comment.
The bill, regarded as anti-smoking activists as a major one and a way to enforce strict no-smoking laws that for years have been nearly ignored by local authorities, would for the first time punish owners of shops, restaurants, government and public offices and other places where smoking is illegal but still occurring.
At present, only the smoker himself is fined NIS 350 on the rare occasion when municipal inspectors catch him or her. Under the Erdan bill, the owner of the place where the law is being broken would have to pay a NIS 5,000 out of his own pocket, and the smoker would be charged NIS 1,000.
The hiking of the smokers' fines and the establishment of legal responsibility for smoke-free environments on the owner are expected to increase enforcement. In addition, the Erdan bill would require the health and interior ministers to instruct the local authorities to appoint many more inspectors to enforce the no-smoking law. Since the municipalities and local authorities collect for their own use all fines, the large amounts of money would be a major incentive for them to dispatch inspectors to public areas and give out fines, say backers of the bill.