Smoking kills an estimated 8,000 Israelis a year, including about 700 nonsmokers who are victims of passive smoking, according to a new Health Ministry report.
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The report was compiled to mark World No Tobacco Day, which was observed on Sunday.
According to World Health Organization data from 2014, 19.8 percent of Israelis aged 21 and older smoke. The Central Bureau of Statistics’ social survey for 2013 put the figure higher, at 23.1 percent, while another 2013 survey by the Israel Center for Disease Control put the rate at only 18.7 percent.
The new Health Ministry report found that 27.3 percent of Israeli men smoke, compared to only 12.6 percent of women. Smoking rates are higher among the Arab population (26.3 percent) than the Jewish one (18.4 percent).
Among both Jewish and Arab men, more than half of smokers said they smoked 10 to 20 cigarettes a day. The same was true for Jewish women, whereas among Arab women, only about 45 percent smoked 10 to 20 cigarettes a day. Nevertheless, a relatively high percentage of both Jewish and Arab women – some 40 percent – smoked fewer than 10 cigarettes per day.
Compared to the European Union, smoking rates in Israel are slightly lower for men and significantly lower for women. The EU rates are 28.5 percent for men and 17.7 percent for women.
On average, Jewish men start smoking at age 18.2, Arab men at age 19.9, Jewish women at age 20.2, and Arab women at age 26.5.
About 35 percent of nonsmokers say they are exposed to passive smoke, including 30 percent of Jewish men, 26 percent of Jewish women, 64 percent of Arab men and 53 percent of Arab women. Altogether, Arabs are 2.1 times more likely than Jews to be exposed to passive smoke.
While women are most likely to be exposed to passive smoke at home, for men the workplace is the main source.
Although smoking is illegal in public places, workplaces and places of entertainment, about 35 percent of nonsmokers report being exposed to passive smoke in all those places, including malls, event halls and bus stations, as well as in their own or their friends’ houses.
Altogether, smoking costs the economy about 12.8 billion shekels ($3.3 billion) a year, the report said. This includes direct and indirect costs to the health system of about 1.7 billion shekels, plus some 1.9 billion shekels in indirect costs to the economy from problems such as impaired ability to work or greater use of sick days. The biggest cost, however, stems from deaths due to smoking. These cost the economy about 8 billion shekels a year, using the accepted OECD average of around 10 million shekels per person.
Israelis spent more than 8.2 billion shekels on tobacco products in 2014. By comparison, total spending on milk and milk products amounted to only 7.5 billion shekels, while annual expenditures on diapers and breakfast cereal come to about 600 million shekels apiece.
Poor families often spend as much as 25 percent of their monthly income on smoking, the report said. This undermines their nutritional security and widens the health gap between rich and poor.
Tobacco products contain between 4,000 and 7,000 different chemicals, of which about 350 are dangerous to human health and about 70 are carcinogenic. Tobacco is also highly addictive, and tobacco addiction is far more common than addiction to other drugs.
Consequently, the report said, cigarettes and other tobacco products are unique: In no other product are poisons, carcinogens and a highly addictive drug combined together and then inhaled directly into the lungs, and from there into the bloodstream.