Health minister mulls easing restaurant no-smoking law

Tobacco sales down 12 percent since November.

no smoking 88 (photo credit: )
no smoking 88
(photo credit: )
Tobacco sales have dropped 12 percent since a strict no-smoking enforcement law went into effect in November, but longtime smoker and Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri says he will consider making accommodations for restaurant and cafe owners to accommodate complaining customers. The new law significantly raised fines for violators and for the first time set fines for owners of public places who did not enforce the law. As tables outside eating places (including on balconies) are regarded by legal experts as part of the premises, they view smoking there as prohibited as well. Ben-Yizri told a delegation of eatery owners he would "consider" allowing specific outdoor areas to have smoking customers, even though non-smoking customers would be sitting near them. The delegation said that although they strongly support the law against indoor smoking on their premises, they opposed an outright ban on smoking outdoors. They also said that a prohibition of smoking in outdoor eating places was not common abroad. Ben-Yizri said he would "consider" their request and meet with them again. Anti-smoking activists say that besides non-smoking customers, restaurant and cafe staff would be forcibly exposed to cigarette smoke for hours a day if Ben-Yizri changed the law. In November, 36.6 million boxes of cigarettes (worth NIS 634 million) were imported, compared to 41 million packages (worth NIS 562m.) in October, according to Ynet. The current smoking rate among Israeli adults is the lowest ever at less than 22%. Prof. Ben-Ami Sela, head of the chemical pathology institute at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, sent a letter to all 120 MKs on Tuesday, calling on them to reject a bill proposed by National Union-National Religious Party MK and long-time smoker Zvi Hendel that would backtrack on the new law. The proposed legislation would allow 20% of the area of restaurants, pubs and cafes to be smoking areas - again exposing non-smoking customers and staffers to toxic smoke against their will. Sela said he sees patients daily "struggling to breathe" with their diseased lungs and those suffering from throat cancer, thanks to their own or others' smoking. "Hendel, a heavy smoker, is fighting a personal battle for smoking and doesn't consider the majority of the public who do not smoke. All the countries with strict no-smoking laws are satisfied with the improved air quality," he said. "Don't give in to political pressure or populism to reverse the law." Hendel's bill may come up for preliminary reading as early as Wednesday.