IDF chief of staff lauded for moving toward tobacco-free military

The IDF has spent millions of shekels on smoking-cessation courses, which in many cases are not successful long-term.

Smoking (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
Dr. Hagai Levine, a leading public health expert in Jerusalem, gives a lot of credit to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot for deciding that the military should become free of tobacco. The decision was also applauded by the Israel Cancer Association.
Although alcoholic beverages cannot be sold either in open military bases, in which soldiers go home to sleep, or closed ones, where they must remain on base, tobacco products are sold in all Shekem stores at military facilities.
Removal of cigarettes from the stores was discouraged by the 25% of proceeds from such sales that went to the military units themselves. But then, the IDF has spent millions of shekels on smoking-cessation courses, which in many cases are not successful long-term. In addition, the physical stamina of soldiers who smoke is much lower than that of their non-smoking peers, and smokers are more likely to take sick than nonsmokers.
There have even been stories of tobacco-addicted soldiers in the midst of war going through mine fields to get their smokes.
Because of contracts between the shops on the bases and the IDF, which will end by the beginning of 2018, the prohibition cannot take effect immediately.
The IDF announcement was made by Col. Prof. Alon Glazberg, head of the medical services department of the IDF Medical Corps. The Knesset event was initiated by MKs Tamar Zandberg, Yael German, Yehudah Glick and Dov Henin.
“It is a brave decision by the chief of staff. He has already been attacked on the Internet, directly or indirectly, by tobacco company representatives,” said Levine, who is head of the environmental health track at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine.
It was not disclosed when tobacco sales will end on closed bases, during Tuesday’s Knesset session – “A Healthy Israel Without Smoking” – at which Eizenkot’s decision was announced, but the intention is to eventually make the IDF smoke-free, even if it takes years. In the meantime, instead of stating where smoking is prohibited, the IDF will list only the minimal number of locations where smoking will be allowed. In addition, smoking will be prohibited in all military vehicles and violators will be punished. Signs indicating the prohibition of smoking in most locations will be posted.
It was disclosed that 85% of non-smoking soldiers said they suffer from exposure to smoke during their military service. It was disclosed earlier this year that units benefit from the sale of tobacco on basis, sharing a significant part of the profits.
The IDF’s new policy comes after a long series of discussions in the Knesset Committee for the Prevention of Drugs and Alcohol, which in effect is adopting the recommendations of the Israel Medical Association and the Israel Cancer Association. Levine presented data showing that the smoking rate increases by 40% during compulsory service.
“Today, we have proven that the Israeli public is stronger than the tobacco companies,” declared Zandberg. “The public and political pressure that we have activated in recent months provided backing for the IDF to make this dramatic decision, which will be a milestone in creating a generation that doesn’t smoke.”
She added that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, who have done little to fight smoking, can learn from the IDF chief of staff.
“They should internalize the fact that eliminating smoking is a primary national interest, and they must at the very least implement
the recommendations of the National Plan for Reducing Smoking and its damage that they themselves approved six years ago.”