Health Ministry to act to bar smoking rooms and hire inspectors

Knesset committee to back NIS 40 billion lawsuit against tobacco companies

July 19, 2017 17:31
3 minute read.
israeli soldiers smoking cigarettes

Silhouetted Israeli soldiers from the Home Front Command Unit take a smoking break during an urban warfare drill inside a mock village at Tze'elim army base in Israel's Negev Desert June 11, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

The Health Ministry will act to prohibit all smoking rooms in public buildings – except in closed psychiatric wards in general hospitals and psychiatric hospitals. In addition, the Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee and the Drug Abuse Prevention Committee will support legislation to enable lawsuits totaling NIS 40 billion against tobacco companies operating in Israel, to cover damages caused by smoking.

Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, who has been harshly criticized in recent years for his “lenient” dealings with tobacco, maintained at the committee’s session on Wednesday that his ministry intends to toughen anti-smoking legislation, including completely banning smoking in restaurants, hospitals (except for closed psychiatric wards), retirement homes, sports facilities, playgrounds, kindergartens, parking lots, zoos and more. He also said that he “initiated restrictions” on the advertising of tobacco products and was waiting for the Finance Ministry’s response on the matter.

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Although in 2011, Litzman as deputy health minister said he wanted to prohibit all tobacco advertising, more recently he has advocated requiring one pro-tobacco ad to appear with each anti-tobacco ad in the newspapers.

Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov added that he intends to authorize national inspectors to enforce the ban on smoking in public hospitals but not in other public places (NIS 1,000 fine per smoker caught with a lit cigarette) and not to rely on municipal inspectors. “The local government does nothing about this, unfortunately,” noted Bar Siman Tov.

After the annual Smoking Report prepared in his ministry that it officially released at the end of May showed that smoking in the country rose by 13% in one year, Litzman attacked its “leakage to the press.” But now he said he will ask that the data in the report be redone, “because there are professional objections to the measurement. We will do this, but I will greatly accelerate the process.

Bar Siman Tov added: “There is an inexplicable and unreasonable increase in smoking in 2016 data compared to 2015. We prefer to carry out analytical completions of the data. Everything will be done with transparency.”

Health Committee chairman Eli Alalouf (Kulanu) announced that the committee would support legislation that would enable the health funds to sue cigarette companies for damages caused by smoking. MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said: “The State of Israel has fallen asleep in this struggle, and the steps being taken are very minor and not far-reaching.”

MK Yael German (Yesh Atid), a former health minister, lambasted Litzman: “You have not done anything about smoking for two years. You have resisted all the anti-smoking bills I have raised. Why do you allow the sale of iQOS [a heat-not-burn tobacco product]? You should do as in the US, where the Food and Drug Administration banned the marketing of the product at least until it proves to be harmless.”

MK Yehudah Glick (Likud) also asked Litzman: “Would you agree that the Gur Hassidic newspaper Hamodia publish an ad that encourages pork consumption? I’m sure not. So why is your paper the biggest advertiser of tobacco? Why did you oppose my initiative to ban smoking in a vehicle transporting children?”

MK Miki Rosenthal (Zionist Union): “The ministry is not aggressive in its fight against smoking. The cigarette companies always prevail. Their tricks are endless, including covert advertising and sponsored stories.”

Representatives of NGOs, including Amos Hausner, head of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking, were not allowed to speak at the meeting. However, he told The Jerusalem Post that positive things came from the session, including backing for suing tobacco companies and barring smoking rooms. But he added that it was very bad to allow smoking in closed psychiatric wards due to pressure from institutions, as the health of both patients and personnel would suffer.

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