Cigarette ashtray
An electronic cigarette held next to an ashtray. Photo by Nir Kafri
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In preparation for World No Tobacco Day, a new report commissioned by the deputy health minister indicates the number of Israelis who smoke cigarettes has decreased slightly since last year.

According to the report, 22.8 percent of Israel's adult population smokes, compared to 24.2 percent last year. The study found 31.3 percent of men smoke, while 14.8 percent of women do.

The ministry report found that 27.9 percent of Jewish men smoke, a figure that has held steady in recent years, and 16.6 percent of Jewish women smoke. Last year, more Jewish women smoked - 18.7 percent.

"Only constant monitoring of these trends can tell us whether this drop continues," said Professor Tami Shochat, the head of the Health Ministry's Center for Disease Control, the institution that authored the report.

Among Arabs, 48.8 percent of men smoke, while only 5.2 percent of women do. These numbers also are similar to prior years' figures.

The percentage of heavy smokers is highest among Arab male smokers - 31.8 percent consume more than 20 cigarettes (one pack ) per day. Among Jews, 12.8 percent of male smokers and 10.9 percent of women smokers smoke at least one pack a day.

The findings come from a two-year poll conducted by the CDC among 4,186 respondents.

The report also cites two polls of 20,000 youths. The study found 5 percent of Jewish eighth-graders smoke occasionally, and 1.6 percent smoke every day. Among Arabs, 2.9 percent of eighth graders reported smoking occasionally while 1.1 percent said they smoked every day.

Children whose two parents smoke were much more likely to smoke themselves. Jewish children whose parents smoke were 2.8 times more likely to smoke themselves. Arab children whose parents smoke were 5.8 times more likely to do so.

The study also found that the number of smokers in the Israel Defense Forces was on the rise, particularly among men. According to the report, 33.9 percent of male conscripts and 26.5 percent of women conscripts who were drafted in 2009 said they smoke. This represents a slight increase among men, and a small drop among women.

Among newly discharged soldiers, 40.8 percent of men and 35.6 percent of women smoked. Most said that they began smoking before they were drafted.

Soldiers who smoke reported starting around age 15. While in the army, male soldiers reported smoking an average of 13 cigarettes a day while women reported smoking 10 cigarettes a day.

The data was gathered as part of a follow-up study conducted by the IDF. Some of the information was obtained from a questionnaire distributed to discharged soldiers.

In comparison with other OECD member states, Israel's rate of male smokers is quite high, trailing only Greece (46.3 percent ), Turkey (43.8 percent ), Japan (39.5 percent ) and the Netherlands (32 percent ).

However, most OECD states report that a lower percentage of their men smoke, including Italy (28.9 percent ), Britain (22 percent ), Canada (20.3 percent ), Australia (18 percent ) and the United States (17.1 percent ).

However, Israel ranks near the bottom in terms of its percentage of female smokers.

As per every year on World No Tobacco Day, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman will submit the annual report to the Knesset speaker as required by law.

In a poll of 604 smokers over age 21, more than half said they wanted to quit - 52 percent of Jews and 54 percent of Arabs. One-third of Jews and two-thirds of Arabs said they intend to quit smoking within a month.

Last December, the state included anti-smoking prescription drugs like Zyban and Champix in its health basket of subsidized medicines. At least half of the respondents said they would be interested in using a drug to help quit smoking - 50.8 percent of Jews and 58.9 percent of Arabs.