One in five Israelis smoke, but increasing numbers are trying to quit

Health Ministry report finds dramatic gaps between men and women, Arabs and Jews, and by levels of educational achievement

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

A new report from Israel’s Health Ministry suggests that a years-long efforts to combat smoking among Israelis is beginning to bear fruit, with growing numbers of smokers looking to quit and increasing restrictions on advertising and marketing for tobacco products.

About one-fifth, or 19.8 percent, of adult Israelis, defined in the report as 21 or older, are smokers, the report found.

The Health Ministry said Wednesday it has set a dramatic goal of pushing that figure down to 15.5% within five years, and believes new anti-advertising legislation, “programs to help smokers quit, and the support of civil society will bring us to that goal.”

Israeli smokers are increasingly looking to quit, the report says. Some 2% of smokers, or 24,865 people, applied for treatments to stop smoking, nearly double the figure in 2010.

The fight against smoking has seen several sweeping changes in policy and law in recent years. Early this year, the Knesset passed into law new restrictions on advertising. Tobacco products cannot be advertised on Israeli internet sites, television or in public buildings. Ads are limited to print media only. A directive last year made smoking illegal in public entertainment venues, such as amusement parks and sports stadiums.

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

The report found large gaps between men and women, Arabs and Jews, and by educational achievement, according to a Wednesday report on the findings on Channel 12.

The figure is significantly higher among men (24.7%) than women (15.1%). It is slightly higher among Arab (23.3%) than Jews (19.1%).

In both categories — men and Arabs — the gaps are driven to a great extent by extremely high rate of smoking among Arab men, at 39%. Only 7.3% of Arab women smoke, a five-to-one margin.

The male-female gap is much smaller among Jews, with 21.6% among men and 16.7% among women.

The high rates among Arab men are partly due to the smoking of nargile water pipes, which 19.4% of Arab men report doing compared with just 4.7% of Jewish men.

An Arab man and woman seen smoking cigarettes as they sit near the steps outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City. November 18, 2013. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Different populations begin smoking at different ages, the study found. Jewish men appear to begin smoking at the start of their military service, with an average starting age of 18.4. Arab men start later, at 20 years of age on average. That may also reflect a lower rate of smoking among Arab minors.

Among Jewish women, the starting age is 19.8, and among Arab women a relatively late 25.

In general, and across all population groups, more education correlates with lower rates of smoking. Nearly one-third, 29%, of Israelis who fail to reach 10th grade are smokers, a figure that drops to 23.2% among those who finished 10th, 11th or 12th grades. Among those with a full high school education or more, the figure is 17%.

The report notes that the figures for Israel are on par with the European average. Israeli men’s 24.7% is statistically indistinguishable from the European men’s average of 24.4%, while Israeli women’s 15.1% is slightly better than European women’s 16.2%.

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