Expert: Organized tobacco's days are numbered

Cigarette merchants will be tried for crimes against humanity, says head of Israeli smoking prevention group.

 AMOS HAUSNER 370 (photo credit: judy siegel-itzkovich)
(photo credit: judy siegel-itzkovich)
It is inevitable that “the days of organized tobacco around the world are numbered” as exemplified by the declaration of the government of New Zealand, which will be smoke free by 2025 along with a growing number of other countries.”
This was the surprising and optimistic prediction on Wednesday of long-time smoking-prevention lawyer Amos Hausner, the head of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking.
Hausner, the son of Gideon Hausner – Israel’s late attorney-general and prosecutor of Nazi murderer Adolf Eichmann – echoed the famous characterization of the Nazis by describing tobacco sales as the “the banality of evil.”
This phrase was coined by Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt in her 1963 work Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.
Her thesis was that the great evils in history generally, and the Holocaust in particular, were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths – but by ordinary people who accepted their state’s norms and therefore regarded their actions as normal.
Hausner said in Tel Aviv on Wednesday that tobacco companies’ actions also exemplify this because they know their products will kill half of their users, but they continue to make them even deadlier and market them.
“Unlike the Nazis, who were motivated by hate, anti-Semitism and vicious racism, the tobacco companies are motivated by greed,” the jurist said.
Hausner was one of the speakers at the first Israeli Conference on Tobacco or Health, which was held at Tel Aviv University and attended by over 150 people.
As for the “numbered days of organized tobacco,” Hausner said that public opinion surveys in New Zealand show that two-thirds of the public – including many smokers – advocate a “completely tobacco-free country.” Other countries will follow, he said, adding that he hoped Israel would eventually be among them.
A 2011 book with the title comparing tobacco to "a holocaust" called for its abolition, a term that was used in mid-19th century America, when slavery was legal, regarded as economically beneficial and widely supported in the South. But just a few years later, slavery was completely abolished – as if it never happened. The same, said Hausner to much applause, can happen with smoking.
“Today, we are in the midst of an irreversible process that will lead to the termination of organized tobacco,” he said.
“The environment will be completely tobacco-free. This is what people all over the world want.”
“Only last year, a book was published that asked: ‘What will happen if all Americans stopped smoking?’ Many people think this already. The public mind is already set for this process,” Hausner declared.
He added that last month, a small shareholder in a US tobacco conglomerate said when the CEO was about to retire: “Don’t you think that you will be subject to indictments on the basis of your crimes against humanity? Tobacco is killing 5.7 million people every year around the world.”
Hausner commented that instead of just suing tobacco companies for damages – such as the $245 billion judgement against organized tobacco in 1998, which ordered the companies to compensate the 50 US states for the costs of treating tobacco-related diseases – the legal action will focus against “crimes against humanity, of homicide, even the genocide of people by smoking their products.” Thus he predicted that such lawsuits will replace settlements of compensation for financial loses.
Health Ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu said that despite the slow decline in adult smoking rates in Israel to a little over 20 percent, the percentage of those who smoke must drop to 10% or less.
The country cannot afford to spend huge sums to treat patients harmed by tobacco, he said, and the ministry will take increasingly strict measures to raise tobacco taxes, restrict places where smoking is allowed and limit advertising of tobacco products.
However, Gamzu erred when he declared that “there is not a single newspaper in Israel that does not accept tobacco advertising,” even though he heard from The Jerusalem Post at a No Smoking Day press conference a few weeks ago that it has not run tobacco advertising for many years. The English-language Post also does not use photos of celebrities, models and others who smoke or hold cigarettes. Editor-in-chief Steve Linde confirmed this no-tobacco advertising policy, which the paper’s readers demand.
Gamzu later apologized for his comment that all Israeli newspapers advertise tobacco.
He added that he indeed heard that the Post has followed this policy for many years but “forgot.”
However, newspapers read by the haredi community – including Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman – regularly run tobacco advertising, with one ad employing havdala candles to remind readers to light up their cigarettes when Shabbat ends.
Prof. Gregory Connolly, a veteran researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, said at the conference that tobacco killed 100 million people globally in the last century, with about five million people now dying from tobacco-related causes annually.
The figure will rise to eight million by 2030 until serious action is taken, he cautioned. “It could cost a billion lives in the 21st century,” Connolly said.
He noted that in the last two decades, while local companies like Dubek historically controlled tobacco production and sales in Israel, multinational companies such as Philip Morris have taken over the majority of the industry here, reaping the profits and leaving behind huge damage to the public health at the cost of billions of shekels a year.
Connolly noted that the tobacco industry conducts much research to make cigarettes and other products more addictive to children and adults, adding “pellets of menthol” that give the false impression that they are “lighter and easier to smoke,” as well as selling nicotine-packed, short cigarettes that enable employees to fully consume them before their smoking breaks end.