Report: 66% of Israelis exposed to secondhand smoke

Nearly half of smokers smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day; lack of law enforcement allows 66% of Israelis to suffer from secondhand smoke.

Chana Roberts ,

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One out of every five Israeli adults, or nearly 20%, smoke, and about half of them (46%) smoke more than 10 cigarettes each day, a Health Ministry report on the issue said.

Approximately 23% of Israeli smokers began smoking before age 16, and 30% began smoking after age 30. Just 19% of Israelis do not currently smoke even though they did so in the past, and a whopping 42% of smokers have never tried quitting the habit.

Worryingly, though only 19.8% of Israelis smoke, a full 66% of Israelis over age 20 are exposed to secondhand smoke, and 30% of them are exposed to it often. Nineteen percent of those are exposed at home, 25% at work, 22% at friends' homes, 22% at events and in enclosed spaces, and 26% in open public spaces.

According to the report, just 17 of Israelis cities and towns handed out fines to smokers violating the laws against smoking in public places. Tel Aviv topped the list, handing out 1,791 fines, with Jerusalem and Haifa following at 1,498 and 1,288 respectively. Netanya, for its part, handed out 656 fines, Ramat Gan handed out 489, Holon 268, Kfar Saba 236, and Ashdod 106. Also on the list were Ramla, Eilat, and Acre with 54, 48, and 45 smoking fines respectively, and Dimona, Carmiel, and Tzfat with 27, 17, and 13 fines. Shoham (5), Ashkelon (2), and Kiryat Ono (2) brought up the rear end of the list.

Every year, 800 non-smoking Israelis die due to secondhand smoke. Globally, 165,000 children under age 5 die due to secondhand smoke.

During 2018, tobacco companies spent a total of 80.7 million NIS ($22,363,181) on marketing in Israel. In December 2018, Israel's Knesset passed a law banning the advertisement of smoking products in all venues other than printed newspapers.

Though the report covers how much money taxes on smoking devices bring in, it does not mention the burden of illness caused by active and secondhand smoking, and how much smokers and their actions cost Israel's healthcare system.

Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman (UTJ) responded: "The Health Ministry's efforts to fight smoking show mixed results over the years. After several years when the smoking rates remained steady, we have begun to see a drop and improvement when compared to previous years. The Health Ministry continues and will continue its activities to improve the public's protection from exposure to secondhand smoke and restrict the tobacco industry's marketing efforts through various channels."

The Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, the Israel Medicine Association's Medical Company for the Prevention and Weaning of Smoking, the Israel Cancer Association, and Smoke Free Israel, responded: "The State of Israel advanced its fight against smoking last year, expanding the law to prevent smoking in public places and improving the law limiting the advertising and marketing of products which addict and kill, after a determined battle by the organizations fighting smoking. Initial statistics show that this step is beginning to have an effect and encourage smokers to wean."

"We expect and hope to see a drop in the number of smokers in the coming years, which will prevent Israelis from dying of lung cancer, throat cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases (COPD), heart attacks, and strokes, as well as reduce the number of youth who begin smoking. We have a lot of work ahead of us in Israel, especially among the younger generation."