The Health Ministry was criticized for violating a law that requires it to publish and present to the Knesset speaker an annual smoking report. It was supposed to be released on March 31.
The 75-page report was circulated on Tuesday. The ministry also failed to renew the yearly press conference held by the health minister so that journalists could ask questions. The press conference was canceled years ago by then-minister Ya’acov Litzman, who was accused by journalists and public-health experts of “protecting tobacco interests.”
Israel Association of Public Health Physicians chairman Prof. Hagai Levine charged that it was “not only illegal to publish the report more than five months late, but shameful to do so on the day of the High Court of Justice’s historic debate on the judicial upheaval, which is getting live coverage on TV and radio and that will grab the headlines.”
Disregarding the law, the Health Ministry is five months late
Levine also quoted TheMarker journalist Roni Linder, who wrote that the Philip Morris tobacco company hired the services of Ilan Bombach, a private attorney representing the government in the High Court’s hearing on the reasonableness clause. He is also the personal lawyer of Shas MK Arye Deri – the former health minister who was ejected from his position by the court and whose seat is currently being filled by Health Minister Moshe Arbel (Shas).
Levine noted that by law, the Knesset Health Committee must hold a discussion regarding the data of the report no later than 60 days from the date of delivery of the report to the Knesset, make its comments, and make recommendations as it deems appropriate. No such discussion has been planned or held yet.
“The fight against smoking is dead,” declared the Association of Public Health Physicians, the Israel Medical Association, and the Israel Society for the Prevention and Cessation of Smoking. “Israel is failing in the fight against the harms of tobacco because it does not even try. The report lacks updated data and a plan to fight it. In the past we warned against the neglect of the subject, now it seems that the fighting field of smoking is simply dead and buried, even though some 8,000 Israelis die every year from cigarettes and e-cigarettes. They include thousands of nonsmokers who are exposed to the toxins against their will.”
The organizations added that “while the state’s income from tobacco taxes is about NIS 7.5 billion, the investment in prevention is zero and there is not even one full-time employee in the state service whose job it is to prevent the harms of smoking. A weak government in protecting public health is good for the tobacco companies and bad for the public. The ongoing failure to address the issue of smoking, including poor enforcement, the absence of a national plan, the failure to appoint a person in charge of smoking, and the failure to establish a unit to combat smoking is extremely unreasonable,” they concluded.
The Israel Cancer Association (ICA) said “The smoking situation in Israel is extremely worrisome. It is an epidemic that claims the lives of 154 Israelis every week. Lowering smoking rates and reducing its harm is not the responsibility only of the health minister, but we must address the problem from the root through a budgeted national program that will deal with it.”
The ICA added that it has “been fighting for many years. Thanks to public donations, we have published dozens of different information guides and held training sessions on the harms of smoking in educational institutions and for teenagers on social networks against the use of smoking products. But a national mobilization is required in the face of the great forces of the tobacco and nicotine companies. Smoking causes various types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.”
Health Ministry spokeswoman Shira Solomon did not provide a comment as to why the report was sent five months late, was not sent to journalists in advance, and why the annual press conference to mark the event has not been reinstated.
She said only that “reducing the phenomenon of smoking and its harm is one of the most important national tasks in the field of public health, where the Health Ministry is committed to the fight against smoking and its consequences. We recently published a comprehensive action plan for the fight against tobacco products and smoking, with the aim of formulating a national action plan to eradicate smoking with an emphasis on electronic cigarettes. The outline drawn up is comprehensive and includes recommendations for making extensive regulatory changes regarding content, appearance, sale, and taxation.
Solomon added that “the ministry also promotes research in the field of smoking at the national level and dedicated surveys for teenagers, the findings of which will be presented in the next report. In addition, last May, we published an extensive campaign against e-cig smoking.”