Labor MK forms pro-smoking lobby in Knesset

Yoram Marciano becomes defender of smokers as he tries to repeal the new anti-smoking legislation.

Labor MK Yoram Marciano wants the anti-smoking legislation that took effect last month to go up in smoke. To that end, he recently formed a lobby in the legislature to push for the repeal of the anti-smoking laws. The Knesset has lobbies of lawmakers who join forces on issues such as the environment, helping Gush Katif evacuees and bringing home the kidnapped IDF soldiers. But this is the first time a lobby has been formed to fight on behalf of smokers. Marciano vigorously denied allegations from MKs that he had received campaign contributions or kickbacks from tobacco companies. He said allowing people to smoke in restaurants was a matter of human rights. "Smoking is legal in this country and therefore it is a human right," Marciano said. "I call upon Israelis not to smoke and I admit that cigarettes are a bad thing that harm people's health. But we need to protect the rights of smokers. This isn't a Third World country." Marciano, who quit smoking a few years ago but whose wife still smokes, was elected to a slot on the Labor candidates list representing poor neighborhoods, where smoking rates are much higher than the rest of the country. He was investigated and cleared of charges earlier this year for his role in a pub fight. Now he wants to fight on behalf of pub owners, who have complained that their profits have gone down by as much as 20 percent since the law took effect. Together with Pensioners Party MK Moshe Sharoni, Marciano recently proposed a bill that would allow pub, restaurant and wedding hall owners to decide for themselves whether their place of business will be smoking or non-smoking. Marciano said he had received support for the bill from lawmakers from across the political spectrum. "Everyone has the same equal rights under the law, so you cannot take away rights from smokers," said Sharoni, who has smoked for more than 50 years. Likud MK Gilad Erdan, who initiated the anti-smoking legislation, said he would ask Marciano to give people time to adjust to the law. "It's unfortunate that Marciano isn't even waiting to see the positive impact of the law before trying to change it," Erdan said. "All over the world, it has been proven that after an adjustment period, everyone, including the smokers, was satisfied with the new situation and the clean air in public places. Just as no one wants to go back to the smoky flights of the past, I think that soon this law will be [in the] consensus." Under the law, drafted by Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking chairman Amos Hausner, the fine for smoking in public places (outside of completely separate, ventilated and designated smoking rooms) is NIS 1,000 (three times the previous fine). For the first time, the owner of the premises is required to ask the smoker to put out the cigarette or other tobacco product, and if he or she refuses, the owner must call the municipality's round-the-clock complaint line and ask for an inspector to come and fine the violator. The owner also must refuse to give service and must tell the violator to leave the premises. A proprietor who does not do this can be fined NIS 5,000. Those who fail to display the required number of No Smoking signs will be fined NIS 5,000, and for every ashtray, they will be fined NIS 1,000. The law went into effect on November 7, but it wasn't until November 26 that the Knesset Law Committee was asked to approve the fines, allowing them to be issued legally. Judy Siegel contributed to this report.