What a drag

426 million packs of cigarettes a year

World No Tobacco Day finds one in five Israelis still lighting up

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

On the occasion of World No Tobacco Day, Thursday, two surveys found that the percentage of Israelis aged 21 and older who smoke is at a record low. Still, 20.6 percent of Israelis keep lighting up even though 51% have tried to quit smoking once or twice with no success.

Despite the 2.7% decline in adult smokers from 2010 to 2011 (Hebrew link), according to Health Ministry statistics released Thursday, overall cigarette consumption rose 0.1 percent from the previous year, with Israelis burning through 426 million packs of cigarettes. The government earned about 5 billion shekels in tax revenues from those tobacco sales.

Deputy Health Minister MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman said that he was pleased with the growing awareness of the dangers of smoking in Israel: “We will continue to lead the struggle against smoking… in all ways: legislation, public relations and prevention, in order to promote health and improve quality of life in Israel.”

Among adults aged 21 and above, 27.1 percent of men and 14.4 percent of women owned up to smoking, according to the Health Ministry survey. The Jewish population had a lower smoking rate than the Arab population, at 19.7% and 25.2%, respectively.

The report shows that although the number of school-age children who smoke has been steadily declining since 1998, many teens begin to smoke during their IDF service, with 29.8% of males and 24.2% of female soldiers saying they smoke.

Last year saw an increase in Israelis who sought to quit smoking. In 2010, when health care providers began to offer smoking prevention workshops and subsidized anti-smoking medications, 11,844 smokers sought assistance. In 2011, that number had risen to 19,646.

The pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which conducted another survey among 461 Israeli smokers, found that 51% of respondents have tried to quit smoking once or twice, and 31% tried to quit 3-5 times. The great majority of those polled, 81%, tried to quit smoking without any help or medical treatment.

Pfizer, which manufactures Champix (also Chantix), a stop-smoking drug, claimed that global statistics indicate that a mere 3-5% of smokers who try to quit alone remain non-smokers for more than six to 12 months.

The drug giant’s poll also showed that most Israelis who want to quit smoking (42%) do so for aesthetic reasons, followed closely by those who want to quit for medical reasons (41%), then the pressure of family and friends (36%) and high cost of cigarettes (29%). (Respondents were free to cite more than one reason.)

Pfizer also found that 45% of smokers were hard-pressed to give up “the first cigarette of the morning.” Thirty percent of respondents said that they enjoyed smoking, and 26% said it was relaxing. However, 77% of those polled defined smoking as an addiction.

Israel, according to OECD statistics, has one of the highest percentages of male smokers, 43.6%, ranking fifth among 34 member states. Israel ranks near the bottom in terms of its percentage of female smokers.

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