After 25 days, MK calls off anti-tobacco hunger strike

Yehuda Glick says Finance Minister Kahlon continually ignores recommendations to bring loose tobacco tax in line with tax on cigarettes

MK Yehuda Glick speaks during a plenum session at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 23, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Yehuda Glick speaks during a plenum session at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 23, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud MK Yehuda Glick announced Saturday that he would end a 25-day hunger strike that he launched to press the finance minister to raise the tax on loose tobacco to match that of cigarettes.

“To avoid harming my health and following many appeals from my family and partners in this struggle, I have decided to end my hunger strike after 25 days,” Glick wrote on Twitter. “The struggle will go on.”

Glick said he had been invited to meet with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in the coming days. “I hope we will deal with the issue in a meaningful way and not under political pressure.”

Launching the strike, Glick had accused Kahlon of taking “our children hostage for political reasons,” without elaborating on Kahlon’s alleged motivations.

“Who will stand up for the 3,000 people who died this year from smoking?” Glick asked in the Knesset. “World health organizations ask Israel to raise the tax on loose tobacco, but the finance minister has ignored their requests.”

Glick, who has long advocated against smoking, listed several Knesset committees, that have called for the tax on loose tobacco to be raised, but Glick said Kahlon had systematically rejected their recommendations.

“Children in 8th and 9th grade buy tobacco instead of Bamba,” Glick said, referring to a popular snack.

He then dramatically announced that he would stop eating until the tax had been raised.

“Since the Torah I believe in gives precedence to human life over everything else, and I can no longer stand by and do nothing,” Glick said. “So I will begin an open-ended hunger strike from tomorrow.”

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon speaks during a ceremony in southern Israel, April 12, 2018. (Flash90)

The tax on cigarettes is more than three times higher than the tax on loose tobacco.

The main purpose of the high tax on tobacco is to keep people away from smoking. While cigarette smoking has declined over the past few years, the amount of loose tobacco sold has increased dramatically.

Two months ago, the Knesset announced a major crackdown on cigarette smoking, banning the practice from many public spaces including hospitals, justice courts, concerts, and parking lots, including within ten meters from the entrance to any such place.

Some 26 percent of Israeli men smoke cigarettes, according to a 2015 study by the Health Ministry, 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%.

A report last year 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 US soldiers, according to a study in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research. The study found no significant change over the years in how many soldiers were smokers when recruited or discharged.

JTA contributed to this report.

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