Smoking Ban to Be Enforced on Hospital Grounds in Israel

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Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The Health Ministry wants to make anti-smoking regulations in hospitals more stringent by forbidding smoking anywhere on hospital grounds, except in designated smoking areas to be determined by the hospital’s management.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman is expected to approve the necessary amendment to the law that bans smoking in public places. Implementing it will require approval by the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.

The law now allows smoking anywhere on hospital grounds, except in the buildings themselves and 10 meters from the buildings’ entrances. Some hospitals, together with the local authorities, employ smoking inspectors who patrol the hospital premises and slap violators with 1,000 shekel ($258) fines. But sources in hospitals and in the ministry say that keeping smoking outside the buildings does not eliminate the exposure of patients, employees and visitors to second-hand smoke and that the law needs tightening.

“The amendment we want to make essentially reverses the default situation, making smoking forbidden anywhere in the hospital compound and not just in the buildings, except for defined areas determined by the hospital director,” according to Haim Geva Haspil, senior coordinator of smoking prevention for the Health Ministry.

“What happens today is that the law is not actually enforced; no smoker ever keeps 10 meters from the entrance and smokers are allowed to smoke in areas where there are air intake vents. The new amendment is meant to be unequivocal and clear, defining exactly where it’s permitted to smoke.”

Since the decision regarding how many smoking areas there will be and where they will be located will be left in the hands of hospital officials, in theory a hospital can decide to ban smoking entirely. Geva Haspil doesn’t think that will happen because a total ban will be neither enforceable nor observed.

“In hospitals in the United States, smoking is entirely banned, and that’s the standard we’d like to see,” he said. “But we have to be realistic; on big campuses like those of Sheba and others, it’s unreasonable to demand that visitors and employees leave the campus to smoke.”

One of the leading government hospitals in the campaign to crack down on smoking is Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. The hospital has huge signs warning against illegal smoking, employs smoking inspectors and underwrites workshops for employees who want to quit.

“The situation with the current smoking law is absurd,” said a hospital official. “It’s more stringent in soccer stadiums and train stations than in hospitals. The new amendment is significant and will enable us to enforce and impose high fines on anyone who smokes outside the smoking corners, which will reduce the phenomenon.”

Enforcement of any anti-smoking regulation will never be easy. Nearly 20 percent of Israelis aged 21 and above still smoke, and hospitals employ smokers, treat smokers and are open to visitors who may also be smokers. In certain facilities, like parts of psychiatric hospitals and closed wards, there are also patients who smoke heavily and who must be taken into account.

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