Ending 3-year hiatus, airport cites passenger demand

‘Have we not learned anything?’: Ben Gurion Airport reinstates smoking room

Health Ministry and health organizations denounce decision to give smokers a room in Terminal 3, with Israel Cancer Association warning it will ‘take Israel back to the 1950s’

People smoking in the smoking area in Terminal 3 at Ben Gurion Airport, July 3, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
People smoking in the smoking area in Terminal 3 at Ben Gurion Airport, July 3, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Some three years after the Israel Airports Authority declared Ben Gurion Airport a smoke-free zone, it has reversed course, announcing that the airport will now cater to smokers and allow smoking in a designated room near the synagogue in Terminal 3.

The decision to bring back the smoking area was reached Tuesday after airport staff complained that travelers were ignoring the terminal’s smoking ban and lighting up in bathroom stalls, Channel 12 news reported.

Sources at the Authority said that another smoking area would be opened soon in Terminal 1 as well.

The Ynet news outlet reported that the decision to reopen the smoking areas was due to rising demand from passengers, and that three more designated smoking areas would be opened in the coming month in Terminal 3 between the Duty Free area and the boarding gates.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health at the Health Ministry, said the move goes against the national goal of reducing the smoking rate, which recently increased to 20 percent after decades of decline.

Around 8,000 Israelis die from smoking-related diseases every year, 800 of them from secondhand smoke.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the Health Ministry’s head of public health services. (GPO/Health Ministry)

This “destructive decision will take Israel back to the 1950s, when smoking was permitted at the back of buses and there were smoking areas in planes,” the Israel Cancer Association said.

“We are smarter today and aim to raise a generation of children free of active and passive smoking. Have we not learned anything in the last decades? While other nations are moving forward and passing legislation prohibiting smoking and airports around the world are closing smoking areas and rooms, Israel is taking a step backward.”

A woman smokes a cigarette outside a cafe. Israel took another step towards becoming smoke-free when strict regulations came into effect that limit smoking in public places. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a woman smoking a cigarette outside an Israeli cafe. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Israeli Medical Association and the Association of Public Health Physicians both pointed to the influence of tobacco and nicotine companies and raised the possibility that commercial considerations played a role in the decision to allow smoking at the airport again.

A major concern is the effect smoking in and around the terminal will have on bystanders. Secondhand cigarette smoke can lead to immediate discomfort such as nausea, eye irritation, and labored breathing for those with asthma. Longer-term exposure can lead to heart disease, strokes, and malignancies, among other illnesses.

Smoking cabins or smoking booths, meant to give smokers a place to light up indoors without bothering others, are not hermetically sealed, and smoke can seep out of them.

The Authority said in a statement: “Ben Gurion Airport was a declared a smoke-free zone. A designated smoking room will be made available to passengers as part of our preparations for the expected influx of passengers during the High Holy Days. At the same time, the Authority will soon conduct a pilot program opening smoking rooms for passengers in Terminals 1 and 3.”

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