The Health Ministry will take a number of far-reaching steps to curb cigarette consumption in Israel, a senior Health Ministry official told the Knesset’s Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse on Wednesday.
The ministry’s director of public health, Itamar Grotto, told lawmakers at Wednesday’s meeting that the government would implement a complete ban on cigarette and tobacco product advertising, more stringently enforce the smoking ban in public places, establish a telephone hotline for those seeking to quit smoking and launch a public campaign to discourage smoking, the Hebrew-language daily Haaretz reported.
Under current law, cigarette companies are forbidden from advertising their products on television and radio, but Grotto said the Health Ministry will also seek to outlaw advertising cigarettes and tobacco products on the internet as well.
The Health Ministry will also seek to apply the advertising ban to electronic cigarettes, which can currently be marketed freely in Israel, as a 2014 bill pushed by then-health minister Yael German to prohibit the production, import, marketing or advertising of electronic cigarettes was never brought to a vote in Knesset, according to Haaretz.
Grotto said that the Health Ministry will seek to apply the same rules to electronic cigarettes as are applied to regular cigarettes, which will include doubling the tax on them to bring their tax rate in line with those that currently exist for cigarettes and other tobacco products.
The Health Ministry will also work to increase the enforcement of the smoking ban in public places, in particular at hospitals and at locations where children are present, such as schools, playgrounds and amusement parks.
Grotto said that more stringent implementation of the smoking ban in public locations will not require any new legislation, adding that the Health Ministry will also seek to outlaw smoking in vehicles in which children are riding, which due to the difficulty of enforcing such a measure will likely be treated as a traffic violation.
The ministry will also push the establishment of call centers to support quitting. A 2011 plan to set up a large anti-smoking unit in the Health Ministry that would employ 30 staff was never implemented. Only two people in the Health Ministry are currently charged with helping to reduce smoking among the Israeli public and to raise awareness of its effects on health.
A major public relations campaign is planned to encourage smokers to quit, with a particular focus on Israel’s Arab population, where some 44 percent of adult men smoke, according to a 2015 study by the ministry, double the 22% figure among Jewish men.
Overall, 26% of Israeli men smoke cigarettes, the 2015 report said, slightly above the European Union average of 24.2%. 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 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.
The Health Ministry’s proposals come on the heels of a recent report that found that nearly 40% of Israelis are smokers by the time they finish their compulsory army service. That’s twice as high as the overall national rate and dramatically higher than among American soldiers, according to the study published Monday in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.
Although smoking has decreased in Israel in recent decades, the trend has skipped over the army. The study found no significant change over the years in how many soldiers were smokers when recruited or discharged.