The Health Ministry voiced strong opposition on Tuesday to attempts to water down anti-tobacco legislation and said that if these attempts succeeded, they would seriously harm public health. The ministry was commenting on a private member's bill proposed last week by NU/NRP MK Zvi Hendel, which would have allowed smoking in a fifth of the space of pubs, cafes and restaurants. The Hendel bill was opposed Monday by a majority of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, including Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri and Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, and therefore will not be a government-sponsored bill. However, it will still be presented for a preliminary reading before the Knesset plenum on Wednesday. The proposal by long-time smoker Hendel is aimed at fighting back against successes by anti-tobacco legislation pushed by Likud MK Gilad Erdan and Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking head Amos Hausner. Hausner, a veteran lawyer, expressed his strong opposition to Hendel's bill, saying that recent legislation has already induced some 200,000 Israeli smokers to kick the habit in the last year. He noted that if Hendel's bill were passed, it would expose many workers in food establishments to tobacco smoke against their will. It would be impossible to separate smoking and non-smoking areas, as without walls and ventilation, smoke would spread immediately to non-smoking areas, he added. Ministry Deputy Director-General for Information Yair Amikam said "any attempt to erode laws that bar smoking in public places would harm the public health." The ministry and others have worked for years to pass such legislation, as have the health ministries in all Western countries, he added. On Tuesday, a French law went into effect to bar smoking in public places. Last year, smoking was completely barred in Irish pubs, and the law is being observed. Nevertheless, the ministry official said that "out of consideration for smokers and owners of eating establishments, the ministry has agreed to discuss with them the current prohibition for smoking in the outdoor sections of cafes or restaurants." However, Amikam did not say the ministry would agree to any changes in existing laws. The Israel Cancer Association strongly opposes the Hendel bill. Clalit Health Services spokeswoman Etti Shilling also denounced it on Tuesday for trying to bring smoking back to public places. Ten thousand Israelis die of tobacco-related causes a year, she said. If passed, the Hendel bill "will encourage smoking and cause much damage to health and increased mortality, as it would be impossible to enforce the smoking ban in all public places if it went through," she said.