Health minister targets youth smokers

192 Israelis die each week and 10,000 a year from smoking-related causes.

yaakov ben-yizri 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
yaakov ben-yizri 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
As a new survey showed that the rate of smoking in Israeli adults has actually risen by 0.4 percent from last year and that a fifth of teenage boys and almost 9% of the girls smoke hookahs and up to 7.8% smoke cigarettes, Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri said Wednesday that he will work harder to reduce tobacco use, especially among young people. Ben-Yizri, who has smoked three packs a day for 60 years (except Shabbat), told health reporters on World No-Smoking Day that he had still not lit up a first cigarette of the day when his press conference started. "I took a lot of flak for smoking in public, maybe justified. It was not setting a good example. I will try to keep my promise not to smoke in public or to be photographed smoking," said the 78-year-old new minister. Since he holds meetings with non-smokers where he is not allowed by law to light up, Ben-Yizri said he is smoking much less than before he became minister. He was not sure he would try to quit the habit, but did not rule it out. Asked about whether he would influence the prime minister, education minister, environment minister, interior minister and others in the cabinet who smoke cigarettes or cigars to quit, he said he had already asked them at least not to smoke in public. He said he could not defend smoking, a dirty, addictive habit that causes many serious diseases. "I hope young people will not start, and those who start will quit," the minister said. "Don't start out of curiosity." The health minister is bound by law to issue an annual Smoking Report full of statistics. But because of the changeover in minister and manpower shortages, it was impossible to issue the report, which last year filled more than 60 pages, in time this year. He said the report, prepared by Israel Center of Disease Control director Prof. Manfred Green, would be released within two weeks. However, some data were presented at the press conference. Today, 25.5% of Israelis over 18 smoke (compared to 25.1% last year). Fully 32.1% of men smoke, compared to 19.3% of the women. Arab men are the most likely to smoke, with 41.2% of them lighting up and "only" 30.3% of the Jewish men smoking. Arab women are least like to smoke, with 8.3% lighting up compared to 21.3% of their Jewish counterparts. Israel is thus midway between Turkey (49.4%) and Sweden (15%) of men smoking and relatively low on the list of female smoking (33.9% in Germany and 15% in Belgium). But the Israeli figure is affected by the rarity of smoking among haredi and Arab women. Of boys in grades seven to 12, 7.8% smoke cigarettes, compared to 4.8% of their female counterparts. But the smoking of tobacco through hookahs (nargila water pipes) remains very high, even though it is illegal to sell hookah equipment and tobacco as well as cigarettes to minors. The rate of male and female soldiers who smoke when they complete military service is much higher than when they are inducted. Israel Cancer Association director-general Miri Ziv said that an average of 192 Israelis die each week and 10,000 a year from smoking-related causes. Ziv praised Ben-Yizri for being frank about his own habit. She said the fact that many hookah users among children smoke with their parents and at social and family events was very worrisome. A quarter of Israeli adults said that seeing a lit cigarette in the hands of an actor or performer on TV or in the newspaper "angered them a great deal." But 28% of the smokers said such a sight gave them the urge to light up. Nearly 70% of the public said that ash trays should be banned by law from public places where smoking is forbidden. Sixty percent of nonsmokers and 17.5% of smokers agreed that cigarette taxes should be raised so a cigarette pack costs NIS 30 to NIS 40 as in the US. Although only about half of smokers wanted to quit, nearly 60% of them wanted their spouse or partner to quit. Green added that one in five smokers said in a survey that they intend to quit smoking "within a month," although a relatively small number are expected to actually do so. As the people who intend to quit smoking actually do, he added, "you hit the hard center who are difficult to reach. The main ways of influencing these people is by more rigid enforcement of no-smoking laws and by raising the price of cigarettes via taxes." Ben-Yizri did not offer his plans to reduce smoking, such as banning vending machines, setting fines on owners of establishments where illegal smoking occurs or barring duty-free sales of tobacco, but he said his ministry would continue to promote legislation and educational efforts to reduce smoking, especially among the young. Meanwhile, some of the health funds are offering reductions in prescription drugs and nicotine patches for quitting smoking during the coming month. The ministry said it lacked the money to organize any events to mark No-Smoking Day, but Maccabi Health Services held a special conference presenting media star Guy Meroz telling on how he quit and Rabbi Yehezkel Sehayek on how to get haredi Jews to kick the habit.`