Prof. Ben-Ami Sela, a senior pathologist at Sheba Medical Center and Tel Aviv University's Sackler Medical School, has denounced politicians for their failure last week to support a private member's bill for barring tobacco advertising in the print media and on the Internet.
Sela, who also serves as an adviser on lung cancer to the Israel Cancer Association, said Sunday that he was unaccustomed to speaking out in public about such issues after writing hundreds of scientific articles for medical and science journals over many years. But Sela, head of Sheba's pathological chemistry institute, said he could not remain silent about the Knesset plenum's vote last Wednesday.
"I do not feel comfortable writing these words. I am not a journalist, and articles on what's going on in the Knesset are my my regular fare," said Sela in a statement to the press. "But daily I see victims of smoking in my hospital, and the way against this plague has not been assisted by such public representatives."
The vote in the preliminary reading on the bill, presented by Meretz MK Haim Oron and Shas MK and former health minister Nissim Dahan, was 26 for, 29 against and two abstentions. Ehud Olmert
, Haim Ramon and Ephraim Sneh
(a physician by profession) three former health ministers voted against the bill, while Health Minister Dan Naveh walked out and did not vote, saying he was "in favor" of the legislation but could not vote for it because it was opposed by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation.
The Health Ministry itself has not initiated a government-sponsored bill to bar tobacco advertising in the print media and on the Internet; a spokeswoman said it was "busy working on other legislation first" to carry out Israel's ratification of the World Health Organization's
Tobacco Control Convention, which among other things stipulates tobacco advertising is to be prohibited in the print media and on Web sites. Legislatures in the United Kingdom
, France, Italy and most of Europe barred such advertising years ago, but the Knesset has not. At present, tobacco advertising is prohibited in the electronic media, on billboards and in youth magazines.
Sela noted that smoking is "the most effective public murderer that causes havoc among us and takes 12,000 Israelis a year to their deaths, 2,000 of them non-smokers exposed to others' smoke. While doctors did not have realistic hopes that Israeli publishers would voluntarily refuse to accept tobacco ads - even though top US papers such as The New York Times
and The Washington Post
have - "we put all out hopes on MKs who would, in a rare demonstration of logic, decency and public morals, adopt and approve the bill that might somewhat reduce the numbers of new smokers each day."
The Sheba physician hinted that Olmert, a former health minister and now finance minister well known for his cigar smoking, voted against the bill because the Treasury "earns billions of shekels each year in tobacco taxes."
The private member's bill was strongly opposed by Hebrew newspaper publishers who, according to Oron, vigorously lobbied against it in the Knesset out of concern for their loss of tobacco advertising income. All Meretz and Shas MKs who were present voted in favor of the bill, while 17 Likud MKs present - including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
and his son Omri Sharon
- voted against; only David Levy
, Ayoub Kara
and Speaker Reuven Rivlin
of the Likud voted in favor.