The municipalities and local councils will from now on be able to earn large sums from enforcing no-smoking laws, now that the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee has approved heavy fines against smokers in public places and proprietors who fail to enforce the law. By sending an inspector to a restaurant where only a handful of people are puffing on cigarettes, a few ashtrays are on the tables and No Smoking signs are absent, in a few minutes the municipalities can hand out fines for some NIS 20,000. The new law promoting better enforcement of no-smoking laws went into effect on November 7, but it wasn't until Monday that the Knesset committee was asked to approve the fines proposed by the bill's sponsor, Likud MK Gilad Erdan. The Justice Ministry said it had to ask the Interior Ministry for approval, and bureaucracy caused delays. Although some municipalities, such as Tel Aviv, have claimed they can't hire inspectors to enforce the law because they lack the budget, they have ignored that the new law allows them to pocket the fines and use them for municipal purposes. Under the new law, prepared by Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking chairman Amos Hausner, the fine for people who smoke in public places (outside of completely separate, ventilated and designated smoking rooms) is NIS 1,000 (three times the previous fine). The owner of the premises is for the first time required to ask the smoker to put out the cigarette or other tobacco product, and if he or she refuses, the owner must call the municipality's round-the-clock complaint line and ask for an inspector to come and fine the violator. The owner also must refuse to give service and tell the violator to leave the premises. A proprietor who does not do this can be fined NIS 5,000. Those who fail to display the required number of No Smoking signs will be fined NIS 5,000, and for every ashtray, they will be fined NIS 1,000. Passive (sidestream) smoking has been proven a major cause of cancer, respiratory and heart disease, blindness, impotence and other maladies. The more the exposure to tobacco smoke, the greater the health danger. Infants, children, the elderly, pregnant women, heart patients and asthma sufferers are at highest risk. The new law and higher fines will definitely bring down the smoking rate, Hausner said, which today has reached its lowest ever - 23.3 percent of adults. But there is still a way to go to emulate places with strict no-smoking laws such as New York, where only 18% smoke, and California, where the rate is down to 14%. Hausner thinks the law has already had beneficial effects in minimizing smoking in public areas. He said an integrated effort of tough new enforcement laws, class-action suits and other legal action has put smokers on the defensive and encouraged non-smokers to demand their right to clean air. Even without laws, the Transportation Ministry can bar smoking in vehicles (which endangers passengers, especially children, and reduces the driver's attention on the road), while the Treasury can prohibit the sale of duty-free tobacco products, which are consumed in Israel when air passengers return home. Effort can also be made to banish cigarette vending machines, which are prohibited by the World Health Organization's Tobacco Framework Agreement, which Israel signed and ratified. However, the Health Ministry still doesn't enforce all its provisions.