If Israel makes it a priority, it "can make smoking history" by reducing the top public health problem in the country to negligible levels, said a US expert on Monday.
Prof. Gregory Connolly, a tobacco control expert at the Harvard School of Public Health in Israel to advise the Health Ministry's Healthy Israel 2020 project on preventing disease and promoting good health, was a guest at a special two-day conference of anti-smoking experts at Kibbutz Ramat Rahel, organized under the auspices of the ministry and sponsored in part by the US Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute.
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Recommendations on reducing the smoking rate from its current 24 percent of the population - which were formulated by participants in the event - will be part of a comprehensive program presented for approval to the cabinet in the fall. Among the recommendations were to put hefty fines on proprietors of establishments in public places that allow illegal smoking, bar all smoking corners and rooms in workplaces and other public places, run targeted media campaigns that explain to youth how smokers are manipulated and endangered by tobacco companies, and regard smoking as a disease that requires major resources to minimize.
Connolly told The Jerusalem Post
in an interview on Monday that implementation of similar recommendations in the state of Massachusetts is expected to save some 120,000 lives.
He added that the Israeli government must set a date by which it would scrupulously enforce existing no-smoking laws. In Dublin, he noted, there is a hefty fine against violators, while it is a relative pittance of only NIS 310 in Israel. He called on raising the tobacco tax to make a regular packet of 20 cigarettes cost at least NIS 18. "This is the real cost to society of smoking in terms of medical care and rehabilitation, so smokers should pay for it," he said.
Connolly, who has helped train public health officials in Asia and Eastern Europe on tobacco control, strongly advocated a prohibition of tobacco advertising in the print media, a move which the Knesset rejected a few months ago. "This would hurt only the tobacco companies. The newspapers will find other advertisements to replace the cigarette ads," he said, based on his experience. He added that of 2.3 million Israeli children, 25% of them will be addicted to tobacco, and one in two will die prematurely by an average of 13 years.
"Israel is at tipping point, and it can go either way. You have to have the political will to delegitimize tobacco and make it history," Connolly said.
A special meeting in Cyprus last week of anti-tobacco experts from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian Authority, Israel and others - which was sponsored by the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute - overcame political boundaries in their opposition to smoking. The participants learned that hookah
(water pipe) smoking, which originated in Arab countries, has spread throughout the Western world, including Israel, and poses much more danger to health than conventional cigarettes, even though the hookah has an image of being less harmful because the smoke is filtered through water.