December 30, 2018

With a huff and a puff, Israel faces its smoking problem

Image result for israel smoking
Adiel Benisty ‘21

While smoking is outlawed nearly everywhere in the United States and almost always frowned upon, Israel is currently facing a losing battle with its smoking epidemic.
Coming from an Israeli family, nearly all of my father’s siblings smoke. During my visit to Israel in 2016, my family and I went to see a half-uncle who was hospitalised and dying from lung problems caused by his lifelong smoking habits. I knew that a fair amount of Israelis smoked, but it wasn’t until I saw sick patients lined up against hospital walls smoking – actively harming their health at the place they went to try and improve it – that the true severity of Israel’s smoking problem hit me.
Smoking is one of the leading causes of death in Israel; 40 percent of all Israeli  diagnoses for cancer are caused by smoking. According to the Health Ministry, about 8,000 Israelis die every year from problems associated with smoking. This statistic also includes 800 people that die from secondhand smoke.
“I don’t want to breathe smoke in public places,” Motti Benisty, an Israeli citizen, said. “My half-brother that smoked passed away from lung problems.”
While Israel’s smoking rate has decreased to around 20 percent since 2011, it is now back on the rise. The treatment for afflictions caused by smoking has cost the Israeli government about NIS 3.7 billion, thereby making Israel's smoking problem not only a health issue, but a financial one, as well.
Fortunately, Israel has recently taken steps toward solving this crisis. On September 1, a Health Ministry order banning smoking in public places was put into effect. This order was pushed by the Ministry in response to constant criticism it faced under claims that it was not properly addressing Israel’s smoking epidemic.
“I think it’s better that people do not smoke in public places,” GOA Rishon Itai Avivi said.
For Avivi, Israel’s smoking problem had been clear from the moment he was born.
“When my mother gave birth to me she was in a hospital with smokers,” he said.
Luckily, smoking in hospitals in now illegal in Israel. The Health Ministry ordered a full ban on smoking which outlaws smoking in government buildings, religious councils and hospitals. The Ministry has also enacted a smoking ban in public areas with over 50 people present. These include playgrounds, swimming pools, nursery schools and sports venues. However, some of these places have been given permission to allow a smoking area at a minimum 10 meters from the entrance, as long as the smoke does not become a nuisance to others.
In order to enforce such a strict law, strict punishments were created for people who violate it. As part of this new law, municipality inspectors have been given the authority to fine individuals NIS 1,000 ($274). Owners of these public venues with records of violations can be fined up to NIS 5,000 ($1372).
However, this law is not a magical remedy to Israel’s smoking problem. An Israeli news network, Reshet 13 TV, sent reporters to investigate how well these laws were being enforced and realized many Israelis were violating the new ban. In response to confusion about the apparent lack of enforcement, several municipalities that were questioned stated they were “still studying the regulations.”
Although it is always possible these laws will have little impact on this major epidemic, it is good to know Israel is aware of its smoking problem and is making moves to try and fix it.
“It’s a good idea,” Benisty said.

This major crisis is in urgent need of fixing, but it bodes well for the future that Israel has put into effect such progressive anti-smoking legislation.

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