Knesset moves to stub out ads for cigarettes and tobacco

Bipartisan proposal, which excludes print media, clears preliminary reading by massive 49-4 margin

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Illustrative photo of people smoking cigarettes. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of people smoking cigarettes. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Knesset on Wednesday gave its preliminary approval to a proposed ban on cigarette and tobacco ads, except in print media, in a bid to tackle smoking rates in Israel.

The proposal, by Likud MK Yehudah Glick and Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel, cleared its initial reading 49-4, with 2 abstentions.

The advertising ban extends to cigarettes, cigars, hookah products, and papers used to roll cigarettes. It also outlaws advertising for non-tobacco herbal substances used for smoking, as well as e-cigarettes and all affiliated devices.

The bill, which must still clear three more readings to become law, makes exceptions for advertisements in stores selling the products, for ads in print media, and for smoking images used for artistic or news purposes.

Likud MK Yehudah Glick in the Knesset, May 29, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“This law is a matter of life and death, no less,” said Cabel on Wednesday. “We are aiming at the younger generations who are unaware of the risks.”

“Smoking is the number one cause of death in Israel, and thousands die from it every year,” said Glick. “This is a first step, and I hope many others will follow to end the smoking epidemic. The tobacco companies will lose out, but the public will benefit.”

Yesh Atid MK Yael German, a former health minister, said the lawmakers didn’t go far enough.

“This law is a capitulation to the print media,” she said. “It’s unacceptable for those who are fighting against smoking to exclude print advertisements from the law. These [ads] reach everyone. This is a capitulation to the lobbyists of the media and this shameful clause must be removed.”

A separate bill by Zionist Union MK Eyal Ben-Reuven, calling for an illustration of the dangers of smoking on the products’ labels along with the required written warning, also passed its preliminary reading on Wednesday with 60 MKs backing it and none opposed.

The governing coalition agreed to support the smoking ads ban in exchange for Glick’s support for a bill to shutter mini-markets on Shabbat. That bill was narrowly passed into law on Tuesday, with the Likud MK’s backing.

Smoking is one of the leading causes of death in Israel; up to half of smokers die of the habit. According to the Health Ministry, approximately 8,000 Israelis die each year for reasons linked to smoking, among them 800 nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke inhalation.

According to a report last year, the number of Israeli smokers is on the rise.

In line with with global trends, the smoking rate in Israel fell from about 45 percent in the early 1980s to about 20% or less in the years since 2011. However, in its annual report on smoking released in June, 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 contributed to this report.

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