Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) has consistently opposed regulation that would have required cigarette manufacturers to place warning pictures on cigarette packages, saying they are “unaesthetic.”
During a series of meetings held by the Knesset on the subject between 2011 and 2014, Litzman voiced his opposition to the idea, despite the recommendations of experts who said the introduction of labels depicting the deleterious effects of smoking helped to reduce the habit in other countries.
At one point he vowed, “With the help of God we won’t approve this,” adding, “We don’t need to disfigure the state with such images,” according to a Channel 2 report Sunday.
Litzman headed up the Health Ministry from 2009 to 2013, despite possessing the official title of deputy health minister during that period. In 2015, after a two-year hiatus for his party in the opposition, during which Yesh Atid’s Yael German served as health minister, he was appointed full health minister.
He vigorously opposed the introduction of warning labels on cigarette packages while deputy minister, a stance he maintained during the tenure of German, who was in favor of the move but was ultimately unable to implement it.
Litzman has recently come under scrutiny for other policies and statements that seemed to serve the interests of the tobacco companies, including hindering some efforts to curb cigarette ads.
A number of countries that have introduced graphic labels depicting the health effects of smoking, most notably Australia, which prohibits any branding on cigarette packages, have seen reductions in the number of cigarette smokers since the measures went into effect.
In January, a Health Ministry official told the Knesset’s Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse that the ministry would take a number of far-reaching steps to curb cigarette consumption in Israel.
Overall, 26 percent of Israeli men smoke cigarettes, a 2015 report found, slightly above the European Union average of 24.2%. However, among Arab men the figure is much higher, at 44%, double the 22% figure among Jewish men.
Among women, just 13.6% of adults smoke cigarettes, a bit below the EU’s 15.5%.
While the number of total cigarettes packs consumed annually in Israel has declined in recent years, according to the Health Ministry, approximately 8,000 Israelis die each year for reasons linked to smoking, among them 700 nonsmokers who are subject to secondhand smoke.