Breaking with Western world, Israelis smoke more in 2016 than ever before

Should the health minister resign for "doing nothing?"

Young men smoking near Ashdod (photo credit: REUTERS)
Young men smoking near Ashdod
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The smoking rate among Israelis over the age of 21 has risen for the first time in 29 years to 22.5%, an increase of 12.5%.
According to the annual smoking report – required by law to be issued by the Health Ministry on May 31 but released a day late – 31.1% of men and 15.8% of women use tobacco. An estimated 1.2 million Israelis smoke.
The smoking rate among men is higher than the 25.6% OECD average, putting Israel 12th out of 35 nations. But that of Israeli women is lower than the 16.9% OECD average (20th out of 35), largely due to the low smoking rate among Arab and ultra-Orthodox females. Arab men are the heaviest smokers, at 43.9%, explaining their significantly lower longevity compared to Jewish Israelis and women of all religions.
The Israel Cancer Association said this week that one Israel smoker dies every 66 minutes, and an average of 666 Israelis die of the habit every month.
The report was prepared with input from the Health, Education and Finance Ministries, the IDF, the four health funds, local authorities and many other bodies.
Amos Hausner, head of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking, said regarding the report: “This is not only disappointing; it is frustrating. The smoking rate increase is not 2.5%; it is 2.5% out of 20%, which was the figure in 2015. The real increase therefore is 12.5%. The question is whether Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman should consider resigning as a result. This is the number one preventable cause of death in Israel.”
“What one does is what one gets,” he said. “When the Health Ministry does nothing, and the tobacco industry invests many tens of millions in the encouragement of smoking, this is the result. Smoking in public places exists as ever, because there is no enforcement. There are smoking areas in enclosed public places, contrary to our commitment under the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. There is massive cigarette advertising, against contrary to our commitment.”
Hausner said a 12.5% increase in the number of smokers means 50,000 people will die prematurely in the coming few years as a result of cancer, heart disease and other smoking-related ailments.
This is because about 60% of the people who smoke die due to this addiction.
We are the only country in the Western world where something like this happens; everywhere the rate of smoking is dropping.”
Although the smoking rate among intermediate school pupils is low, it rises significantly among those in high school to 14.4% of Jewish teens, including 7.1% of Jewish girls. Some 10.6% of Arab teens smoke, including 0.8% of the girls. Nargila, or hookah, use is significant, with 39% of all Jewish 11th-graders and 42% of Arab boys and girls in the same grade having tried the water pipes.
The share of smokers who enter the IDF has declined from 30.6% in 2015 to 24.8% last year among 18-year-old men.
It dropped from 23.3% among women in 2015 to 14.9% in 2016.
Tobacco companies that import and manufacture tobacco products spent some NIS 63 million in Israel to promote and market their products.
State income from cigarette taxes totaled NIS 6.032b. last year compared to 6.074b. the previous year, reflecting the huge growth in the use of self-rolled cigarettes on which taxes are lower than manufactured ones. It is estimated that one-quarter of all cigarettes smoked in Israel are hand-rolled. The Health Ministry said it will ask the Treasury to raise taxes on tobacco for hand-rolled cigarettes.
Smoking has been outlawed in all areas of schools. However, enforcement by the local authorities of laws prohibiting smoking in public places, concedes the report, remains low. This is despite the NIS 1,000 fine that can be collected from individual smokers and NIS 5,000 per instance from public places that fail to enforce the law.
According to the World Health Organization statement marking World No-Smoking Day, tobacco use kills more than seven million people every year and costs households and governments more than $ 1.4 trillion through healthcare expenditures and lost productivity.
Tobacco-smoke emissions contribute thousands of tons of human carcinogens, greenhouse gases and other toxic substances into the environment, and tobacco waste is the largest type of litter, by count, globally.