Smokers have gained a new ally in the Knesset, in the form of long-time smoker MK Zvi Hendel.
Prompted by the slew of recent legislature passed by anti-tobacco activist MK Gilad Erdan (Likud), Hendel has fired back with his own bill to require local authorities to approve smoking permits for 20 percent of bars, cafes and restaurants in their jurisdiction.
On Wednesday, the Knesset House Committee agreed to expedite the bill for a preliminary reading, so that it may come up for a vote as early as next week. It will still need to pass through an additional committee debate and a second and third vote before it becomes law, allowing the anti-smoking lobby to formulate a strategy to stop the bill.
Earlier this year, Erdan succeeded in passing sweeping legislature that outlawed smoking in all places of entertainment that do not have adequate ventilation. The bill imposes a NIS 5,000 fine on venue owners that permit smoking on their premises, and obligates local authorities to hire inspectors to levy those fines.
Erdan quit smoking two years ago but is now committed to saving people from the dangers of second-hand smoke. "It's a fiction that there can be a smoking section in a restaurant that is not divided from the rest of the restaurant," Erdan said.
"It's like the farce there used to be on airplanes where row 20 was non-smoking and 21 was smoking. We know how passive smoke harms. This bill also has an educational component of teaching people to respect others' feelings and not to force their habit on the 76% of the population that doesn't smoke," he added.
While some restaurant owners have complained about the bill, Erdan said that ultimately it would increase their business because many non-smokers would be more inclined to dine in their smoke-free establishments.
Hendel argued, however, that the smoking ban was unfair to smokers who enjoy having a cigarette with their meal. "Why should the entire population of smokers in Israel be discriminated against?" he said. "Non-smokers should have their places, and smokers can have theirs."