Health Minister to push smoke-free ministry buildings

Anti-smoking activists: Ben-Yizri should have declared nicotine an addictive substance.

Jlem smokers1 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jlem smokers1 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri will ask all his fellow ministers at the next cabinet meeting to make all ministry offices smoke-free. Speaking at a conference on the battle against smoking at Kfar Hamaccabiah in Ramat Gan on Tuesday, Ben-Yizri - who has smoked for more than 60 years but no longer does so in public - said he aims to investigate the possibility of outlawing smoking completely in all Health Ministry buildings, including hospitals. That includes abolishing smoking rooms. He cited the example of Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, who has banned all smoking from WHO facilities. On Thursday, World No-Smoking Day will be observed in Israel and abroad to increase awareness of the dangers of tobacco and to improve enforcement of existing laws. About 25 percent of the Israeli public still smokes, and this rate has remained steady in recent years. Proposals to be brought soon before Ben-Yizri by a committee he appointed to reduce smoking include raising import tax on cigarettes from the current 73 percent of the price of each packet to 80%; banning cigarette vending machines; and requiring all municipalities and local authorities to enforce no-smoking laws in public places. However, experts who passed a variety of smoking-restriction resolutions at the 2006 Dead Sea Conference of the National Institute for Health Policy Research expressed disappointment with the minister's proposals, calling them a "missed opportunity." Instead, they said, Ben-Yizri should have declared that nicotine is an addictive substance that must be regulated; required tobacco companies to pay a large deposit to cover the medical costs of all their customers; barred smoking in all public places by closing all smoking rooms; and prohibited smoking in moving vehicles. In addition, the activists said that locally manufactured cigarettes should be taxed at the same rate as imported brands, as local smokes are made from imported tobacco. The Smoking Report Ben-Yizri is obligated to present every year shows that Arab men are the most likely to smoke (41%,) compared to 30% of Jewish men and 21% of Jewish women. Only 8% of Arab women light up. A survey conducted by the Israel Cancer Association (ICA) found that 41.5% of all seventh to 11th graders smoke nargilot (hookahs, or tobacco water pipes,) even though they are very dangerous. The Geocartographic Institute poll indicated that the nargila smoking rate in the top grades is five times that in the lower grades, and that one in five Israelis over 18 has smoked a nargila at least once. Another new survey conducted for Clalit Health Services found that 82% of teenagers regard the media as having the most influence on their health behaviors, including smoking. Most said that seeing movie and TV stars smoke encouraged them to smoke, as well. ICA director-general Miri Ziv said it is launching a major educational campaign against nargila smoking. The two-week campaign will include TV spots and ads on-line as well as in daily newspapers and youth magazines. More information about the dangers of smoking can be obtained from the ICA's toll-free number 1-800-599-995. In addition, a special hotline on filing lawsuits in small claims courts against public places that fail to prevent smoking inside (not including as-yet-legal, isolated and ventilated smoking rooms) will be open at 03-6129848 between 4 and 8 p.m. over the next two weeks. Meanwhile, Amos Hausner, who chairs the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking, said he was considering legal action against the Israel Police, after having been informed by a senior police officer that the police are not able to enforce no-smoking laws - leaving the job to local authority inspectors, who are few and far between.