Despite the coronavirus pandemic, smoking rate in Israel remains unchanged

The percentage of Israelis who smoke is higher than in OECD countries.

Deep breaths: Smoking pollution in Tel Aviv (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE PEXELS)
Deep breaths: Smoking pollution in Tel Aviv
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, and the toll the respiratory disease has taken both globally and nationally across Israel, the percentage of Israelis hasn’t lowered since 2018, according to a Health Ministry report on smoking in Israel, released on Sunday.
The study, submitted to the Knesset by the Health Ministry in accordance with the Mandatory report on the Health Damage Caused by Smoking Tobacco Products, found that 20% of the Israeli population smoked some form of a tobacco product in 2019, a rate similar to that of 2018 (19.1%) . The percentage was higher compared to the year 2017 (18.9%), and lower than 2016.
The percentage of Israelis who smoke is higher than in OECD countries. The rate of Israeli men who smoke is 25.3% compared to 22.5% of men in OECD countries. However in women, the gap closes, as while the percentage of Israeli women who smoke stands at 15%, it’s only 1% higher than the percentage of smoking women in OECD countries.
Despite this, Israel ranks seventh for anti-tobacco legislative policy.
While there has been no resumption in legislative activity in the area of reducing smoking since the dissolution of the 20th Knesset on December 31, 2018, when on that date an amendment to the Advertising Restrictions and Marketing of Tobacco Products Law was approved that has been implemented in several stages since.
Changes include adding more than just cigarettes to be included in the law, such as e-cigarettes and tobacco paraphernalia. Moreover, the warning on tobacco products has been enlarged, and a ban has been implemented on advertising tobacco products. From January, 2020, the conspicuous display of cigarettes in places that they are sold is forbidden and they must be sold in a uniform packaging of a solid color; either brown or green.
These changes have seemingly had little effect, since the percentage of Israelis smoking has only risen.
The smoking rate among men is 25%, higher than among women at 15%, while the smoking rate among Arabs 23% is higher than among Jews 19%.
Notably the smoking rate among Arab men compared to Arab women is higher than the rate of Jewish men to women. While Jewish men smoke 1.4 times more than Jewish women, Arab men smoke 3.3 times more than Arab women.
However, while fewer Jewish men smoke than Arab men, Jewish men in turn start smoking at a younger age. The average age for Jewish men to start smoking is at 18.4 years of age, while in Arab men the average age is 20. A similar pattern is seen when comparing the starting age for smoking among Jewish and Arab women, as Jewish women on average begin smoking at the age of 20, and Arab women much later at an average age of 25.8.
With regard to age, a survey conducted by the Health Ministry at the same time as the report, found that more than one quarter of teenagers used e-cigarettes. Among that group, one sixth admitted to e-cigarettes being their first experience smoking tobacco. Some even started as early as age 12, under the perception that smoking e-cigarettes was less harmful than regular cigarettes.
The findings also show that the smoking rate decreases as the level of education increases.
Lower smoking rates were found in respondents with higher levels of education (17%) compared with middle-educated (30%) and with low-educated (32%), and this was observed in all population groups. The same held true for all population groups.
Findings from the report are based on phone interviews with nearly 4,000 respondents aged 21 and older who smoke daily or often, and is correct up to May 31 of this year, notably the international No Tobacco Day held by the World Health Organization.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, 36% of people, aged 20-65 said that they smoked more, according to a survey conducted among 1,500 respondents by the Jerusalem based Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, and cited by the Health Ministry.
A possible explanation for this increase can be found in another figure, according to which 47% reported feeling more depressed or hopeless than usual. More than half (51%) of respondents reported that they feel lonely often or sometimes, compared to 19% who report smoking to be a routine habit.