The cabinet will discuss adopting new legislation to impose further restrictions on smoking in public places at its weekly meeting on Sunday, to mark the occasion of World No Tobacco Day, which takes place next Tuesday.
Ahead of the discussion, senior researchers noted that Israel is among the least advanced Western countries when it comes to anti-smoking legislation.
Greg Connolly, one of the leading researchers in the field and a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, submitted a report to the cabinet in which he noted that Greece's smoking rate is 50 percent higher than Israel's, but despite the difficult economic situation there, it has implemented a clear policy smoke-free zones, including a ban on smoking rooms in public buildings, and a tough campaign against the tobacco industry.
Connolly, who was here advising on the issue, told Haaretz that Ireland, Britain and Canada also impose more restrictions on smokers than Israel does. This seems strange, he said, since the percentage of smokers in Israel is similar to that in the United States and lower than in Europe, yet government policy is not encouraging a decline in the damage caused by smoking.
He also noted that though Israel leads the world in preventive medicine, and its policy of child immunization is among the most successful in the world, tolerance for cigarettes and smoking is high.
In recent years, Connolly has conducted an international campaign to ban smoking outright in public places, including cafes, restaurants and public institutions, instead of merely offering separate areas or rooms for smokers and nonsmokers.
When smoking is permitted in restaurants, pubs or schools, even in separate rooms, he explained, the message that children receive is that smoking is normal - and that entrenches bad health behavior among young people.
Just as has been done in cinemas, airports and hospitals, many countries have also now banned smoking in restaurants, Connolly noted. He gave the example of Cyprus, where smoking was banned in restaurants in 2009. Yet instead of reducing the number of patrons, as some had predicted, their clientele increased.
Another example is Ireland, which recently became the first country to ban smoking entirely in public areas, including pubs. Yet people continue to drink beer.
Connolly said this is also possible in Israel, but the government needs to become more involved.
A 2010 study measuring Respirable Suspended Particulates in 33 pubs in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, led by Dr. Leah Rosen of Tel Aviv University's School of Public Health, found rates six times higher than those recommended by the World Health Organization and four times higher than those permitted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Rosen, who termed her findings "troubling," said that in at least four pubs, the RSP levels "pose an immediate threat to people."
Similarly, the Israel Cancer Association funded a study that measured nicotine levels in 72 pubs in 29 mostly Jewish cities in 2009-2010. It found that only in six pubs, or 8.3 percent, were there no traces of nicotine in the air, as required by law. A third of the pubs had low levels of nicotine, 30 percent had moderate concentrations and 25 percent had very high levels of nicotine.
The Health Ministry will present two reports on Sunday detailing the damage that smoking causes in Israel. As of May 2010, 31.1 percent of Israeli men and 14.8 percent of women were smokers, while cigarette consumption increased to 413 million packets in 2008, a 2.3 percent rise from 2007.
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