Photo Credit: Hillel Maeir / TPS
Cigarette (illustrative)

About 8,000 Israelis die of smoking every year, including 800 exposed to secondhand smoke, according to data presented to the Knesset Health Committee.

The committee convened on Monday to receive the Minister of Health’s report on smoking in Israel for 2020, in accordance with Section 2 of the Mandatory Reporting of Health Damages Caused by the Smoking of Tobacco Products Law, 2000.

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While 8,000 people die in Israel annually as a result of smoking, the issue of enforcement falls between the cracks and the Government resolution from 2011 to form a smoking prevention unit has not yet been implemented, the report showed.

Committee Chair MK Idit Silman noted that “whoever harms his own health costs the system a great deal of money, and should be taxed for it.”

“Why isn’t enforcement of this issue regulated by law? Why are people allowed to smoke this way in the State of Israel? Israel’s citizens are exposed to active and passive smoking. We have learned in the discussion that there is no actual enforcement of the smoking laws, and all of the State of Israel’s citizens suffer from this,” she stated.

Dr. Efrat Aflalo of the Ministry of Health presented to the committee data from the Minister of Health’s report on the smoking situation that showed that the percentage of smokers in Israel is 20.1%, and higher among men than among women. In addition, the rate of smokers is higher among Arabs than among Jews: 24.4% versus 19.1%.

The percentage of smokers in Israel is higher than the average in OECD states—Israel is ranked in 18th place from 44. Among teenagers, 25% have smoked an e-cigarette at least once. A total of 19% of teenagers smoke, more boys than girls; about 50% smoke tobacco cigarettes and 50% e-cigarettes.

Prof. Hagai Levine, of the Israel Medical Association, charged that “protection of the public from smoking harm and involuntary smoking is a very low priority. More people have died from smoking in Israel than from coronavirus in 2020 and 2021. There’s no enforcement of the prohibition on smoking in public places, the prohibition on sales to minors, or the prohibition to display and more. No one protects us—not the Ministry of Health, not the police and not the local authorities.”

He called upon the committee and the Government to take steps in 2022 to form the smoking prevention unit and advance a national plan, and to advance specific measures urgently, including pictorial warnings on cigarette packs, raising the sales prohibition to age 21, enforcement, and business licensing for tobacco points of sale.

Dana Frost of the Israel Cancer Association stressed that “an unequivocal message has to be sent to teenagers about smoking. Significant enforcement of a smoking prohibition in educational institutions, and vigorous and extensive enforcement of the prohibition on selling smoking products to minors.”

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