Smoking rate in Israel on increase despite campaigns to quit

Men from a lower socioeconomic background are twice as likely to smoke than those who are more wealthy.

smokers 2 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
smokers 2
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Despite anti-smoking campaigns and restrictions on smoking in public, a national study published Sunday revealed that Israelis are not yet giving up on cigarettes.
According to the study published by the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research (NIHP), the share of Israelis aged 16-74 recorded as smokers increased from 18.9% in 2017 to 19.1% in 2018. The national share is higher than the OECD average of 17.9%, with approximately 27% of men and 12% of women saying that they smoke.
Twice as many men from lower socioeconomic backgrounds (32.9%) smoke compared to men of higher socioeconomic status (16.3%), the study found. A similar correlation was not found for Israeli women, due to low smoking rates among Arab and ultra-Orthodox women.
“Although the smoking rate in Israel remains almost identical to the rate measured last year, we understand that another player has entered the field: the e-cigarette,” said Dr. Ronit Calderon-Margalit of the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, who heads the NIHP’s program for quality indicators in community healthcare.
“Currently, the index only refers to tobacco cigarettes, but it may need to be widened,” she said.
While measures have been implemented to ease access to quit-smoking medication, restrict the advertising and marketing of tobacco products, and limit or ban smoking in public places, Calderon-Margalit emphasized the importance of individual willpower. Not enough is being done, she added, to enforce smoking bans in public places.
The study also found that approximately 62% of men and 55% of women aged 20-64 years old were either overweight or obese.
Obesity (BMI of 30 and above) currently affects 25.1% of Israeli women, the study found, rising from 23.7% in 2013. Among men, obesity has also risen – from 21.7% in 2013 to 22.3% today. The figures are similar to the OECD average of 24%, but significantly lower than the US obesity rate of 40%.
Socioeconomic differences were also found to play a major role in the case of obesity. More than one-quarter (25.7%) of men from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were recorded as obese, compared to 16.8% among men of a higher socioeconomic status. Greater disparities were noted among women, with over one-third (34.8%) of women of low socioeconomic status suffering from obesity, compared to just 15.5% among women from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.
Positive trends were noted in the case of child obesity rates. In 2018, 6.9% of seven-year-old children suffered from obesity, a reduction from 7.1% in 2017 and 8.1% in 2015. A normal BMI range was measured in 78.1% of girls and 77% of boys aged seven years old.
At the other end of the spectrum, seven-year-old boys from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were almost twice as likely to be underweight (6.6%) than boys from higher socioeconomic households (3.6%). Among girls, 5.7% from poorer backgrounds were recorded as underweight, compared to just 2.3% from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.
“A pleasing trend is evident in curbing child obesity. This is a real epidemic,” said Calderon-Margalit. “We plan to publish teenage weight assessments in the future as well, which will help shed more light on the phenomenon. The underweight trend in children from low economic strata is alarming, and may indicate a lack of nutritional security in these populations.”
The study, which covered a wide range of healthcare-related trends, also discovered that fewer Israelis aged 65 and older are getting flu vaccinations. In 2018, only 60.4% of senior citizens were vaccinated, compared to 61% in 2017 and 63.1% in 2016.
Despite the decline, Israel still records a high rate of vaccination among developed countries. South Korea leads the way with a vaccination rate of 82.7%, compared to just 34.8% in Germany and 7% in Turkey.
“Among the less encouraging data, we see a downward trend in influenza vaccination among adults and patients with chronic illnesses,” said Calderon-Margalit. “Influenza and pneumonia have been ‘crowned’ as the eighth leading cause of mortality in the adult population - and the data is not encouraging in this area.”
More encouraging, however, was a new annual record for breast cancer screening with mammograms. Maintaining a trend of steady annual increases, almost three-quarters (73.3%) of women aged 50-74 years old were screened in 2018. Only 54.6% of women within the same population group were screened in 2002.
A greater share of women from higher socioeconomic backgrounds (75.4%) were screened than women from a lower socioeconomic status (66.8%). The average rate of screening in OECD countries stands at 60.8%.