Israel would be in violation of an international agreement barring smoking in all public areas if the Knesset abrogates an existing law, thus allowing unlimited smoking in "neighborhood pubs" and removing responsibility for enforcement from owners of public establishments.
So said Amos Hausner, chairman of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking, about legislative plans of Likud MK Ophir Akunis, a self-declared nonsmoker who said Thursday he is concerned about rights of smokers and wanted to "liberalize the rules for a certain sector."
He claimed that in New York City, there is a loophole that allows puffing on cigarettes if a prohibition would cause serious economic damage to owners.
Akunis, a 36-year-old former adviser to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and currently the powerful chairman of the Knesset Economics Committee, said he wanted to roll back the amendment passed last year that requires owners of premises to enforce non-smoking laws, as well as to insert an exemption in a previous law that bars smoking in all pubs. "Small neighborhood bars," he insisted, should let young people light up.
As for the idea of exempting owners from enforcing laws, the MK maintained that the Tel Aviv Municipality had a "deal" with some restaurant and bar owners who call to "complain to the city complaint number about customers smoking at the beginning of the workday," even though there had been none, so they were "legally covered" and could not be accused of failing to enforce no-smoking laws.
Israel signed and then ratified the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that came into force almost five years ago; it is one of 167 countries that committed themselves to the terms.
Hausner, a leading lawyer in the field, also said that allowing smoking in neighborhood bars would force non-smoking employees to breathe in toxic air and be exposed to lung cancer and many other diseases through passive smoking. He noted that two former MKs, Zvi Hendel (National Union) and Yoram Marciano (Labor), proposed a similar amendment last year, but "are no longer members," suggesting that it was not a popular idea, as nearly 80 percent of the adult population do not smoke. Hausner declared that no New York pubs have been permitted to allow smoking.
Kadima MK Rachel Adato, a physician and lawyer, denounced the proposal, saying that smoking is responsible for direct medical costs of NIS 1 billion a year, plus more in indirect costs.
Israel Cancer Association director-general Miri Ziv also criticized Akunis, saying that "such a change would bring us backwards. Smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventible death, and countries with 'pub cultures' passed laws barring smoking in eating and drinking places, and it is observed and enforced."
She couldn't think of any logical reason for Akunis's proposal and said it was certainly not good for the public.