New smoking law is ‘largely ignored, ineffective'

Experts place blame on the Health Ministry and local authorities for failing to enforce outdoor smoking ban

Man smoking 370 (photo credit: Ina Fassbender/Reuters)
Man smoking 370
(photo credit: Ina Fassbender/Reuters)
Six weeks after a much-trumpeted law went into effect to bar smoking in numerous outdoor public locations, the Israel Cancer Association and other smoking cessation experts say it has largely been ignored and ineffective.
They blame almost non-existent enforcement by the local authorities and the Health Ministry’s failure to prepare regulations requiring signs at the forbidden locations and hold long-term information campaigns to inform the non-smokers of their rights.
The country’s first-ever law of its kind prohibits lighting up at outdoor swimming pools, train platforms, covered bus stops and central bus stations, entertainment events and in private cars during driving lessons.
In addition, smoking is forbidden in outdoor restaurants, cafes or anywhere else food and drink are served (unless these establishments decide to allocate 15 square meters – but not more than a quarter of the outdoor space – for smoking).
Staircases and passageways where people wait in shopping centers must also be smoke free. In government buildings, even people who work alone in their offices may not smoke.
Smoking in outdoor event facilities such as wedding halls is also prohibited, although small and isolated smoking rooms are still permitted.
Smoking is not allowed in synagogues, churches and mosques; bomb shelters; community centers and youth movement meeting places; and old age homes except for private rooms occupied only by smokers. All these have been added to previous laws that prohibit smoking in the vast majority of indoor public locations, including workplaces.
Smoking is still allowed in sports stadiums due to lobbyist pressure on MKs, and taxi drivers whose vehicles are empty of all passengers may still smoke in them.
The fine for an individual smoking violation is NIS 1,000, while owners of premises can be fined NIS 5,000 per violation, plus NIS 1,000 for each warning sign they fail to display.
The Jerusalem Post asked the Health Ministry on Tuesday for a tally of fines handed out by municipal inspectors since May 9 when the new law went into force, but no figures were supplied by Haim Geva-Haspil, the official responsible for smoking issues in the ministry’s Public Health Department. He said only that the next smoking report would be issued by the ministry next year, 12 months after the last one in May.
No other statement was made on whether the law has been effective and what suggestions Geva-Haspil had for serious public health education and enforcement of the law.
During the whole of last year the total of fines collected by municipalities – and sometimes hospitals, with their own inspectors – ranged from just one in Tiberias – with 10 antismoking inspectors – to eight in Yavne – eight inspectors – and seven in Ashdod – 13 inspectors.
In Herzliya 28 inspectors imposed 75 fines, in Jerusalem 85 inspectors gave out 443 and 2,501 fines were dealt in Tel Aviv by 222 inspectors. A lone – and apparently very efficient and highly motivated – smoking inspector in Holon handed out 123 fines.
Edna Peleg-Olavsky, the ICA’s spokeswoman and public affairs officer, said that it was a “full partner with the ministry in initiating and promoting the law to prohibit smoking in outdoor – and other – pubic places. However, to our sorrow, the law has been implemented only partially, and we have received many complaints about lack of enforcement.”
The law’s implementation has been accompanied by lack of clarity, as regards the general public, and whoever encounters smokers in pubic places doesn’t know whom to complain to,” she said.
Decisions by the committee appointed by the ministry to decide on locations where smoking would be prohibited were not always logical – for example, smoking is prohibited at covered bus stations but not at those without a roof, and forbidden at outdoor swimming pools, but not sports stadiums. This is due to effective lobbying by tobacco interests and certain locations.
Peleg-Olavsky called on the ministry to significantly boost its publication of and information about the law, ensure the placement of signs where smoking is now forbidden and tell the public where to complain about violations.
In addition, she said, the local authorities must expand the activity of their inspectors, who spend most of their time giving parking tickets and other fines because they apparently prefer not to argue with possibly violent or abusive smokers.
Amos Hausner, the attorney who chairs the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking, said the failure of many places, such as the Kibbutz Ramat Rahel swimming pool south of Jerusalem, to enforce the law is a “good marker to examine the effectiveness of a law barring smoking in open places. This is because it is part of a sports center that some years ago limited smoking to a “smokers’ corner,” but with its cancellation by the law, there is a lot of smoking [all over].”
Hausner added that at train stations and bus stops, “the law is not felt in the field except, perhaps, for some places during the first days after implementation. For the law to take, the ministry must initiate a series of notices to swimming pool owners via the Interior Ministry responsible for licensing and cancel licenses, while it should tell Israel Railways via its management and the Transport Ministry to ensure enforcement of the law,” he said.
There is also the possibility of class-action suits against owners of premises that could lose hundreds of thousands of shekels for failing to enforce the law.
Hausner criticized the Health Ministry for failing to update regulations that require “no smoking” signs, whose absence makes it impossible to file complaints.
He added that the public service ads placed by the ministry on radio for a week or so “initially created interest in the subject,” but the campaign was much too short and limited and did not specify all the places where smoking was prohibited and the size of the fines. It only referred listeners to the ministry website.
Hausner said the public service message, which had a man coughing and explaining that people bothered him by smoking in outdoor public places, was not reasonable, “because most smokers do not avoid it because of enforcement, so there was no believability to the ad. Creating an effect of disgust at these violations would have been better,” he said.
Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Ronni Gamzu, who put his full weight behind the passage of the law, even received a prize for his efforts at a conference on cessation at Tel Aviv University.