Representatives of 17 Israeli public health organizations sent a strong letter of protest to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich denouncing his declared intention not to raise the tax on electronic cigarettes (e-cigs).
“This will lead to an unprecedented smoking epidemic in Israel, especially among teenagers,” they wrote, with copies to the chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, the acting health minister, the ministry’s director-general, the chairman of the Council of Local Authorities and the health of the council’s health committee.
Smotrich’s announcement was the third anti-health decision of the Netanyahu government after it canceled the soft-drink tax and the tax on plastic disposables.
The health organizations and their representatives called on the finance minister to withdraw his intention not to raise the tax on e-cigs on the false grounds that “they are less dangerous” than smoking tobacco.
The organizations, which also include prominent physicians, researchers and scientists, claim that Smotrich’s decision – expressed this week in internal discussions at the Treasury and in the media, stands in complete contrast to the professional position of the Health Ministry and the scientific knowledge accumulated in recent years on the harms of e-cigs as well as rolling tobacco and heated tobacco cigarettes (IQOS).
The signatory organizations included the Association of Public Health Physicians, the Initiative to Eradicate Smoking, the Israel Cancer Association, the Medical Society for Smoking Prevention and Cessation in the Israel Medical Association, the Israeli Council for Smoking Prevention, the Healthy Cities Network, the Israeli Association for Health Promoters and Educators and health professionals in a number of municipalities around the country from Eilat and Herzliya to Um el-Fahm and Ramat Gan.
E-cigarettes are still harmful
In addition, they declared that “reduced harm” is a well-known marketing tactic of the tobacco and nicotine industry and even clearly showed that the tobacco companies direct their marketing efforts to the youth since many points of sale for electronic cigarettes are less than two-thirds of a kilometer away from Israeli schools.
The background to the organizations’ appeal is the publication of Smotrich’s position, ahead of next week’s meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee, to vote on the tax order on e-cigs that will expire on February 15th. This week it was announced that in internal discussions held by Smotrich with Treasury officials, he said he planned not to recommend to the Chairman of the Finance Committee, MK Moshe Gafni, to vote in favor of approving the tax order on e-cigs.
In their appeal, the organizations claim that smoking electronic cigarettes has already become an epidemic in Israel, especially among teenagers and young adults. According to them, the product is a central gateway to the world of smoking and the fast path to smoking regular cigarettes, and even worse, to drug use. This epidemic will only intensify if his decision is implemented, the organizations declared.
According to data they presented, between the years 2021 and 2022 the phenomenon of teenagers starting to smoke expanded dramatically at a rate of 13.7% among 12- to 14-year-olds in 2022, compared to 3.4% in 2021. In addition, the daily smoking rate among 15- to 17-year-olds more than doubled in the last four years, from 4.7% in 2019 to 9.8% of daily smokers last year. International health organizations have declared the significant danger of e-cigs.
The organizations pointed to the severe health damage that electronic cigarettes cause.
“Studies and knowledge accumulated in recent years reveal that most electronic cigarettes contain nicotine, which, in addition to being addictive, can harm brain development, especially among teenagers and young adults.”
The groups demanded that Smotrich urgently approve the tax order on e-cigs and avoid flooding the market with cheap smoking products accessible to children, in accordance with the policy of the State of Israel and its statements before the Supreme Court.
“There is no basis to continue and avoid imposing a similar tax on e-cigs in general and disposable electronic cigarettes in particular, especially in light of the increased use of these products in recent times,” they wrote.