Say ‘no’ to smoking

The strictest of restrictions, or even a total ban, will never completely eradicate smoking as long as it is considered “cool” or respectable.

Stress worried smoking cigarette 311 (R) (photo credit: TIM WIMBORNE / Reuters)
Stress worried smoking cigarette 311 (R)
(photo credit: TIM WIMBORNE / Reuters)
Back in the mid-1980s, Israel was a trailblazer in laying down restrictions on smoking in public places.
At a time when some Western countries were just beginning to awaken to the dangers of passive smoke and to the idea that the state had an obligation to help its citizens kick what is perhaps the human race’s most ubiquitous self-destructive habit, Israel had already banned smoking in elevators and buses and was implementing restrictions on smoking in workplaces.
Unfortunately, after getting off to a good start, our lawmakers dragged their feet in the ensuing years. Part of the reason was the aggressive lobbying on the part of cigarette and tobacco manufacturers.
Other countries gradually began to surpass Israel in the restrictions imposed on smoking. Armed with scientific studies that proved scare tactics work, they began forcing manufacturers to print gruesome pictures on their cigarette packs. Cancer-infested lungs, mouths and esophagi; a dead fetus lying near cigarette butts; gangrenous feet – all were employed.
Other countries banned vending machines that make cigarettes accessible to minors, prohibited smoking at bus and train stops, placed strict restrictions on cigarette advertisements and packaging, and eliminated duty-free sales of tobacco at airports.
Belatedly, our legislators are beginning to catch up. On Sunday, the cabinet voted to advance an ambitious antismoking program that will consider adopting the abovementioned measures and others with the goal of reducing the proportion of Israeli adults who smoke from 22.8 percent – the level in 2009 – to just 14.8% in 2020.
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, who is the driving force behind the new plan, has backtracked on his original opposition to the use of “unaesthetic” pictures on cigarette packs as a method of influencing smokers.
Perhaps, as a haredi Jew, he was influenced by the vast majority of rabbinic authorities who, presented with contemporary studies proving that cigarette smoking shortens a smoker’s life on average by between 10 and 15 years and that passive smoke also kills, have ruled that the practice is irreconcilable with Judaism’s sanctification of life.
Not all lawmakers support the proposed crackdown.
National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau and others have argued that since cigarettes are already highly taxed and smoking is already restricted in restaurants, pubs, malls, government offices and other public places, adopting new measures is “excessive.”
WE BEG to differ. In fact, the only good reason we can think of for not resorting to a total ban on cigarette sales is concern that it would give rise to a flourishing black market and criminal activity.
There is much in favor of a total ban. A 2009 study by Gary Ginsberg, in the European Journal of Public Health, estimated that about 8,500 Israelis die every year from smoking. Another 1,500 are killed by secondary smoke.
Even if the number is closer to 3,800 a year – an estimate made by Manfred Green, head of the University of Haifa's School for Public Health – this is still more than 10 times higher than car accident casualties every year.
Nor can it be argued that a total ban on the sale of cigarettes is an infringement on one’s freedom. Unlike alcoholic beverages, which, when consumed moderately, have been found not to harm one’s health and can even have medicinal and, perhaps, social benefits, cigarette smoke, even when moderate, impairs the smoker’s health and the health of those in the vicinity. Can anyone seriously argue that the right to hurt oneself and others is unalienable? Dozens of smokers interviewed in the local media have actually welcomed new restrictions on smoking, relieved that they might be “saved from themselves.”
Smokers’ diseases are also a burden on society. In 1998, Kupat Holim Clalit, a health fund that serves about half of the public, filed a NIS 7.6 billion damage suit against local cigarette manufacturers for causing cancer, heart disease and other smoke-related illnesses. Based on this lawsuit, which has yet to be heard by the courts, medical expenditures on smoking-related illnesses amount to about NIS 2b. annually.
The strictest of restrictions, or even a total ban, will never completely eradicate smoking as long as it is considered “cool” or respectable. Smoking will stop only when this irresponsible act of self-destruction and blatant disregard for the health of others brings shame upon those who engage in it.
Even if the damage to others from passive smoking can be prevented, by choosing to engage in life-shortening activity, smokers deprive their friends, loved ones and all of humanity of the unique contributions only they could have and should have made.