Health Ministry scrambling to find legal way to bar sucking tobacco

Fears smokeless tobacco products will become popular among smokers who can't light up in public and work places.

smokers 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
smokers 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Health Ministry declared on Thursday that it was "seeking every legal avenue and working very hard" to halt the import and marketing of Kicks, a fruit-flavored tobacco product from Sweden meant to be sucked for its "nicotine effect." The Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry has allowed the NIS 35 tin with 20 tiny tea bag-like packets - meant to be held between the gums and upper lip for up to 30 minutes each - into the country, even though the State Comptroller declared the import of "smokeless tobacco" illegal 20 years ago, The Jerusalem Post revealed earlier this week. The Health Ministry fears that numerous smokeless tobacco products, which are rich in cancer-causing toxins that enter the bloodstream even more effectively than by smoking, will become popular among smokers who can't light up in public and work places. It also worries that children attracted by the lime and wild berry flavors and the name "Kicks" will rush to buy the product. Even though tobacco products may not be sold to minors, the ministry admits that enforcement of this law is very weak. Dr. Boaz Lev, the Health Ministry's associate director-general, told the Post on Thursday that the ministry definitely wants to prevent Kicks from reaching the public. But he maintained that smokeless tobacco products that are sucked, chewed or sniffed are recognized by health organizations abroad - and apparently by Israeli regulations - as "tobacco products" rather than "food products," so Lev said the ministry could not easily bar importing them, even though they are harmful. The import and sale of any product recognized as a "food" that poses a danger, such as causing cancer to its users, can easily be barred by the government. "There is no instant legal way to prevent the marketing and sale; we are investigating to find out what we can do. We could initiate legislation, but that would take a long time," said Lev. He could not explain why the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry had suddenly allowed the product to be imported after many years of banning it. The Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry told the Post it was investigating, but had no further comment. Lev said his ministry had not succeeded in persuading the Finance Ministry to be strict about tobacco, as it earns a lot of revenue in excise taxes on cigarettes and does not consider the huge amounts of money spent by the state for health services to treat tobacco victims. "We at least would want tobacco income to be used to fight smoking," the senior Health Ministry official said. Lev said the ministry was checking whether Kicks had Health Ministry warnings on it, as all tobacco products must, and if it was being sold to minors. In addition, if the prohibition on advertising tobacco products in the electronic media, in youth magazines and on billboards were being violated, legal action would be taken against Snus, the importer and marketer, Lev stated. Snus's public relations firm is promoting Kicks to journalists as a product that is "going to be the hit of the summer among smokers, and certainly among parents of children. ... I am sure that this product will reduce the smoke and smells of cigarettes in our environment and also help smokers get nicotine in a more healthy way." Israel Cancer Association chairman Prof. Eliezer Robinson and director-general Miri Ziv Boaz sent similar letters on July 3 to Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai, telling them that Kicks had begun being imported. They called on the ministers to "use the powers given to you by law and and prohibit the import of sucking tobacco into Israel until it is stated categorically in the law that the product is safe for use and does not endanger health." "It is important to note that today, sucking tobacco is prohibited for import and sale in all the European Union countries and permitted only in Sweden and [other] Scandinavian countries."