No Smoking Day: Nearly a quarter of all Israeli teens smoke, data shows

Moshe Bar-Haim: “The tobacco industry is responsible for harming the health of millions of people around the world, and is also responsible for harming and polluting the planet.”

Cigarettes and ashtray, illustrative (photo credit: PXFUEL)
Cigarettes and ashtray, illustrative
(photo credit: PXFUEL)

An estimated six billion cigarette butts are thrown onto the ground of Israel every year, according to new data shared by the Israel Cancer Association (ICA) ahead of World No Tobacco Day on Tuesday.

World No Tobacco Day is observed every year on May 31. It is a day on which the public is informed of the dangers of using tobacco, the business practices of tobacco companies, and what the World Health Organization is doing to fight against tobacco use worldwide.

The WHO created World No Tobacco Day in 1987 to draw attention to what they called the tobacco epidemic and the preventable diseases and deaths for which it is responsible.

The theme for this year’s event is “Tobacco: Threat to our environment.” It will be marked in Israel by ICA, which released new data on the environmental impact of smoking alongside the WHO’s international campaign.

Deep breaths: Smoking pollution in Tel Aviv (credit: ILLUSTRATIVE PEXELS)Deep breaths: Smoking pollution in Tel Aviv (credit: ILLUSTRATIVE PEXELS)
The environmental impact of smoking

Aside from the damage that smoking can cause to the health of smokers and the people around them, the tobacco industry has severely damaged the environment, said ICA CEO Moshe Bar-Haim.

“The tobacco industry is responsible for harming the health of millions of people around the world, and is also responsible for harming and polluting the planet,” he said.

“The tobacco industry is responsible for harming the health of millions of people around the world, and is also responsible for harming and polluting the planet.”

Moshe Bar-Haim

Global estimates have shown that each year the tobacco industry is responsible for wasting 22 billion liters of water, emitting 84 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and felling roughly 600 million trees.

Furthermore, about 350,000 hectares (approximately 865,000 acres) of agricultural land are destroyed by the tobacco industry every year, the ICA said, including 20,000 hectares of forest land.

The damage caused to the environment by tobacco doesn’t stop after the production process, either. An estimated 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are thrown onto the ground around the world each year.

These cigarette butts produce around 800 million tons of toxic waste that then infiltrate the soil and water systems and pollutes them. As cigarettes take about 15 years to break down, the waste builds up, continuously polluting the environment.

It is not only cigarettes that harm the environment, but e-cigarettes too, which are marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.

However, they are not an improvement when it comes to environmental damage, as they are made up of many non-recyclable components that release harmful chemicals into the environment when they break down.

Health impact of smoking

While the environmental aspect is the theme for this year’s World No Tobacco Day, there is, of course, still heavy importance being placed on the health risks of smoking both traditional and e-cigarettes.

ACCORDING TO the ICA, about 8,000 people in Israel die every year from smoking-related reasons. WHO statistics show that the number of smoking-related deaths globally stands at around eight million annually. In Israel, around 10% of tobacco-related deaths are not caused by direct smoking but rather from prolonged exposure to second-hand smoke.

For children of smokers, the damage that second-hand smoke can do to them is severe, research has shown. According to the ICA, children of smokers are at higher risk than other children when it comes to developing respiratory diseases such as pneumonia and bronchitis, and are also at an increased risk for asthma and ear infections.

The impact of second-hand smoke on these children can be so severe that some can develop persistent coughs, and permanent damage can be done to the cardiovascular system. The damage to the body persists beyond childhood and can lead to lifelong medical problems.

Bar-Haim said, “Effective and vigorous enforcement of the No Smoking Act in public places must be ensured in order to effectively protect the health of the vast majority of the public, who do not smoke, from exposure to the harms of forced smoking.”

Smoking in Israel

A report released by the smoking cessation organization Smoke Free Israel ahead of World No Tobacco Day indicates that 35% of the Israeli population currently smokes or has smoked in the past. Almost one in four teenagers ages 15-17 (22.6%) stated that they have smoked in the last year, with the number of times they have done so ranging from multiple times a day to just a few times. This number rises to 35.2% in teenagers ages 18-19, and to around 45% in people ages 20-24.

Data from the report indicate that the number of smokers ages 15-17 continues to rise in Israel, increasing for the third year in a row, standing at 6.22% in 2021 compared to 5.15% in 2019. Half of all teens reported having tried cigarettes as their first introduction to smoking, and many stated that e-cigarettes were the first smoking product they tried.

Although the overall number of teenagers smoking in Israel is on the rise, the number did briefly drop during the COVID-19 pandemic before sharply rising again. The decrease in teenagers smoking during the pandemic is attributed to three reasons:

  1. Decreased accessibility to, and availability of, a variety of smoking products;
  2. Increased parental supervision during lockdowns; and
  3. Social distancing and reduced peer pressure as a result.

Commenting on the statistics on teenage smoking in Israel, ACW CEO Bar-Haim stated, “In order to create a significant reduction in smoking rates in Israel and to protect teenagers from starting to smoke, the prices of smoking products must be significantly raised - this is the most effective strategy for reducing smoking among teenagers.”