Likud MK Yehuda Glick announced Monday that he would begin a hunger strike until the finance minister raised the tax on loose tobacco to match that of cigarettes.
“Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon takes our children hostage for political reasons,” Glick said in a speech from the Knesset podium, without elaborating on Kahlon’s alleged motivations
“Who will stand up for the 3,000 people who died this year from smoking?” Glick asked? “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.”
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.
Last month, 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.