Israel falls behind in the war against smoking, says expert

On sidelines of European antitobacco panel, the chairman of prevention council says country fails to implement WHO convention.

cigarettes displayed at the open market (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
cigarettes displayed at the open market
Israel would not get more than 40 points out of 100 for its implementation of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which it ratified in August 2005, compared with 81 points for Britain, 70 for Ireland, 69 for Iceland and 64 for France.
This estimate came from lawyer Amos Hausner, chairman of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking, who is in Porto, Portugal, attending the European Conference on Tobacco or Health. As Israel is not a member of the EU, Hausner gave the rating to Israel on the basis of the performance by the Health Ministry and other bodies in enforcing the convention.
Hausner explained that tobacco taxes were last raised in 2013, but the government has failed to raise them on tobacco that people use to roll their own cigarettes – a growing phenomenon because the product is significantly cheaper than ready-made cigarettes.
In addition, Hausner said, Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman has not set any restrictions on sales and marketing to the Philip Morris tobacco company for its iQOS heated- tobacco product, at least until the US Food and Drug Administration sets its policy on the product.
The ministry continues to allow smoking rooms in most public places around the country, in violation of the convention, Hausner continued. The state also does not spend “any amount” on public campaigns to prevent smoking, leaving this only to the voluntary Israel Cancer Association, which gets no funding from the government.
Another violation is that there is no prohibition on tobacco advertising or promoting tobacco products in Israel, he said, adding that contrary to the convention, Litzman has come out against graphic images on cigarette packets of the damage to health that they cause, arguing that such pictures are “not aesthetic,” Hausner said. Israel, he continued, does include smoking cessation courses in its basket of health services, but one can get drugs to help kick the habit only if one participates in cessation workshops.
Thus, 40 points “would be generous,” said Hausner, who noted that in recent years, the country has fallen behind most other countries in the war against tobacco, which kills some 9,000 smokers and second-hand smokers per year.
At 40 points it would be in fifth place from the bottom, behind Greece, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg and Germany and Austria (tied).
The Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking reported recently that – contrary to claims by Litzman that the smoking rate is constantly dropping, the smoking rate here has in fact risen for the first time since 2012, thanks to a significant increase in the sale and use of rolling tobacco, among other things. No comment was available from the ministry by press time.
The conference was greeted by Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and Spain’s Queen Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano, who opened the session by sending her sympathy to the people of London after last week’s terrorist attack.
The queen noted that tobacco kills the greatest number of people who use it as suggested.
“Many deaths from cancer [and other diseases],” she said, can be prevented by not smoking. Drastic measures, she continued, are needed to fight smoking.
Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said that according to directives set down in 2014, tobacco must look and taste like tobacco, thus tobacco companies must not tempt children to smoke by gum or candy that looks like cigarettes.
He demanded that all cigarette packets have graphic warnings so youngsters will be “turned off” by smoking. In addition, there are efforts in all the EU countries to have generic packets with only the name of the product so as not to lure children and others to smoke.
As for electronic cigarettes, the commissioner said these can introduce non-smokers to start smoking.
“They should be sold only in pharmacies,” he added. Andriukaitis demanded that smoking be “de-normalized”; laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco to children need to be rigidly enforced; and legislation should protect nonsmokers from being exposed to tobacco against their will, he said.
“Columbus brought good things such as chocolate; it’s a shame that he also brought tobacco. I wish Europe will be free of smoking,” he concluded.
University of Waterloo Prof.
Geoffrey Fong, who is a senior investigator at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, said tobacco is responsible for one out of six deaths in Europe, and that in the century from 1950 until 2050, 520 million people around the globe will die from tobacco.