Knesset stubs out ads for cigarettes with ‘historic, life-saving’ law

Overcoming opposition, lawmakers pass bipartisan proposal for near-blanket ban on advertising for tobacco products

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Illustrative. Cigarettes in an ashtray. (Yossi Zamir/ Flash90)
Illustrative. Cigarettes in an ashtray. (Yossi Zamir/ Flash90)

Completing a year-long legislative effort that overcame numerous roadblocks along the way, the Knesset on Monday passed into law a blanket ban on cigarette and tobacco ads, except in print media, in an ambitious bid to tackle smoking rates in Israel.

The law, proposed by Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel and Likud MK Yehuda Glick, passed, in its final reading, by 45 votes to one, after a marathon effort to bring the bill to the plenum before the parliament ends legislative work, ahead of the April national elections.

The bill had been held up by several Likud lawmakers, who said it would damage convenience store owners.

The wide-reaching advertising ban will extend 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.

Two young girls eat ice cream as they leave a mini market in Jerusalem, August 2, 2010. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The bill makes exceptions for advertisements in stores selling the products, for ads in print media, and for smoking images used for artistic or news purposes.

Pantone 488c. Offputting. (Courtesy)

But, similar to measures introduced in other countries, all packaging of tobacco products will now be required to be in the brown, sludge-like Pantone 488c tone, found to be the world’s ugliest and most off-putting color.

According to the explanation of the law, it aims “to reduce the public’s exposure to smoking products” and is intended “to protect non-smokers, especially young people and former smokers, from the effects of advertising, including those that create a positive image of smoking products.”

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.

Israeli soldiers smoking during training in northern Israel, June 14, 2009. (Matanya Tausig/Flash90)

Speaking in the plenary after the bill was passed, Glick said that the passage of the law “undoubtedly makes Israel a better country,” citing health professionals who say it will save 300 lives a year.

“This law will save lives,” said Cabel, “It was one of the most difficult laws I’ve ever passed. We were faced with tremendous forces of great influence and we succeeded in leading a real revolution that would close the rate of smoking for young people.”

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

Zionist Union MK Eyal Ben Reuven, one of several co-sponsors of the bill said, “This is a historic day and an important victory in the war we are waging against the phenomenon of smoking in Israel.”

Earlier this year, the Knesset approved a crackdown on smoking in public places, including concerts, event halls, sports venues, zoos and parking lots (the Knesset itself was exempt, however). Following the crackdown, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman released figures showing that 22.5% of all Israelis over 18 were smoking. Litzman also promised to seek to raise taxes on rolling tobacco.

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 prohibited smoking in hospitals and health clinics, including in outdoor areas. It also banned smoking in government offices, event halls, religious councils, municipality buildings, justice courts, parking lots, zoos, entertainment shows and concerts, amusement parks, and sports venues.

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