Privatizing enforcement of smoking laws rejected

Justice Ministry refuses to privatize enforcement, even though number of fines for illegal smoking are "ridiculously low."

smoking (illustrative) (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
smoking (illustrative)
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Although Health Ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu said on Wednesday that the number of fines for illegal smoking handed out by municipal inspectors in public areas is “ridiculously low,” his hands are tied: The Justice Ministry rejects the idea of privatizing enforcement.
Such privatization would entail choosing a company that would send trained inspectors out on motorcycles to catch violators in the act.
At the same time, the Treasury won’t allow the hiring of hundreds of public inspectors to fine smokers who break the laws in public places.
Gamzu told health reporters at a press conference before the May 31 World No-Smoking Day that enforcement of the laws – which are due to expand in a few weeks – is very poor, but that he will try to get the municipalities to do better.
According to the new smoking report that the ministry is required by law to present annually to the Knesset, the number of fines was indeed tiny. During the whole of last year, the total ranged from just one in Tiberias (with 10 antismoking inspectors) to eight in Yavne (eight inspectors), seven in Ashdod (13 inspectors), 75 in Herzliya (28 inspectors), 443 in Jerusalem (85 inspectors) and 2,501 in Tel Aviv (222 inspectors). But a single apparently very efficient and highly motivated smoking inspector in Holon handed out 123 fines in his city.
Asked why municipal inspectors are not enthusiastic about enforcement even though the public coffers would benefit, one expert who would not be quoted said that “they don’t like to argue with smokers. It’s easier to issue parking tickets to cars that are just standing there. The enforcement rate is low here because in most of the Western world, as in Ireland or France or the US, if it is illegal to smoke, people don’t smoke. In Israel, many smoke anyway and must be fined to deter them.”
The municipalities, which collect fines for their own use instead of giving the money to the Treasury, would amass significant funds for public use if they enforced the fines: Anyone who smokes illegally in public places pays NIS 1,000 per violation, while proprietors of places where smoking is illegal pay NIS 5,000 per violation – if caught by inspectors.
A senior official in the ministry’s health promotion department admitted to The Jerusalem Post that he had never polled the public on whether citizens would welcome the availability of private inspectors to enforce no-smoking laws. However, the ministry does poll the public on other subjects regularly.
Within a few weeks, new regulations will come into effect, barring smoking at outdoor bus stops and train stations, swimming pools, indoor stadiums, outdoor wedding locations, public shelters, outdoor performances and within 10 meters of entrances to hospitals and clinics, among other outdoor locations.
Some 40 years ago, 45 percent of the adult population smoked.
Ministry officials at the press conference claimed there was “good news about smoking rates,” as a ministry-sponsored survey (KAP2010) found that the smoking rate among adults over the age of 21 (heavily smoking soldiers up to 21 are not included in the “adult rate”) is now 20.6%, compared to 23.3% the previous year.
This is the lowest-ever recorded rate, Gamzu said.
But in fact, this is old news, as – according to the new smoking report – a 2009 smoking survey by the Central Bureau of Statistics found three years ago that the adult smoking rate was only 20.3%. This improvement is believed to be a direct result of smoking regulations that came into force in 2007.
Smoking-prevention experts told thePost that “nothing was accomplished by the ministry last year, as the real push that brought smoking down to 20.3% in 2008 was the expansion of new anti-smoking laws requiring proprietors to stop customers from smoking.”
According to the ministry’s survey, 21.7% of Israeli men smoke, compared to 14.4% of women. Among Jews, the rate is 19.7%; the rare among Arabs is 25.2%, but almost no Arab women smoke; 43.8% of Arab men light up. Nevertheless, the rates among all groups are going down.
Gamzu, a physician, said that the top chronic diseases affecting the Western world and increasingly the developing world are due to smoking.
Cancer, heart disease and respiratory disorders all derive from tobacco, and smoking is the No. 1 preventible killer. “This is my message to the public,” Gamzu said.
The ministry director-general promised to investigate when the Post pointed out that the ministry was not abiding by the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which requires record keeping of all meetings by government officials with tobacco lobbyists; some ministry officials have met with them, but they have not kept records or reported such encounters.
Israel Cancer Association director Miri Ziv noted that for every person in the world who dies from tobacco-related causes, tobacco companies earn $6,000 by selling their products.
More than 10,000 Israelis, both those who smoke and those who don’t but are exposed to it, die from smoking in an average year. A study in which blood samples were taken to find cotinine, an alkalai found in the blood of people exposed to smoke, showed that 30% of Israeli non-smokers had high levels.
Health Ministry smoking prevention official Haim Geva said that despite the downward trend, 10% of 10thgraders admit to smoking regularly.
When 18-year-olds are drafted, 30% of boys and 25% of girls smoke, and the rates when they are discharged are even higher. The IDF makes efforts to educate them, but it is “still not enough,” said Geva. He promised that the ministry would conduct a publicity campaign in the media when the expansion of nosmoking rules takes effect.
Almost 20,000 Israelis last year took part in smoking cessation courses provided by their health funds, but still, the majority of Israelis who quit smoking do so on their own.
Deputy Health Minister MK Ya’acov Litzman added that he was glad the smoking rate was down, “but it is not enough.”
The World Health Organization’s theme of World No- Smoking Day this year was to urge national leaders to be “extra vigilant against the increasingly aggressive attacks by the industry, which undermine policies that protect people from the harms of tobacco.”
Tobacco kills almost six million people every year and is one of the leading preventable causes of illness and death around the world.