Israel on Wednesday 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.
Any gathering in open spaces of more than 50 people will be a non-smoking zone, according to an expansion of a decree passed by the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee which will come into effect in late July.
“We view smoking and the harm it causes as a danger to the public’s health, and the decree’s expansion will strengthen our battle against smoking out of concern for the citizens,” said Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.
The move was pushed by the Health Ministry after years of accusations of inaction in the face of an epidemic that claims thousands of lives in Israel every year.
The decree now prohibits smoking in hospitals and health clinics, including in outdoor areas. It also bans smoking in government offices, event halls, religious councils, municipality buildings, justice courts, parking lots, zoos, entertainment shows and concerts, amusement parks, and sports venues.
Smoking will only be allowed ten meters or further away from the entrance to these public spaces.
Litzman said his office was working on expanding the ban to the entirety of restaurants as well.
However, the Knesset itself is exempt from the new measures, after staunch opposition from officials in the parliament who insisted it was a “workplace” where there should be a dedicated smoking room. Nevertheless, most smoking rooms in the Knesset building will be closed, leaving only one. Enforcement will become more stringent and signs are to be put up.
“We have made a big step in defending the public from the damages of smoking,” said the Health Ministry’s director-general, Moshe Bar Siman Tov. “The amendment expresses our commitment to this battle.”
MK Yehuda Glick (Likud), who pushed for the measure and for the Knesset compound to be included in it, said it was the first in a series of moves designed to save lives.
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%.
While the number of total cigarettes packs consumed has declined in recent years, according to the ministry, approximately 8,000 Israelis die each year from illnesses related to smoking, among them 700 nonsmokers who are subject to secondhand smoke.
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.
In line with with global trends, the smoking rate in Israel fell from about 45% in the early 1980s to about 20% or less in the years since 2011. However, in its annual report on smoking released in June 2017, the Health Ministry recorded the biggest single-year setback in more than a decade, with the rate rising to 22.5% in 2016, up from 19.7% the previous year.
JTA and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.