About one out of five Israelis over the age of 21 smokes (20.5 percent), states the 2017 annual report on smoking released by the Health Ministry on Thursday.
The percentage of smokers in Israel has remained relatively steady in recent years, despite the health hazards and widespread disapproval of the habit. In 2016, the percentage of Israelis who smoked was 21.6 percent, according to that year’s report. The figures for 2015 were never released because the statistical methods were changed, but in 2014 the figure was 23.1 percent, in 2013, 21.2 percent, in 2012, 20.1 percent and in 2011 the figure was 21.7 percent.
The number of packs of cigarettes sold in 2017 fell by 6.7 percent but at the same time sales of tobacco for water pipes (known as nargilas in Israel) and rolling tobacco rose by 28 percent to 201 tons and 9.3 percent to 760 tons, respectively, compared to 2016.
The rise in sales of tobacco for water pipes is partly a response to the increased enforcement against smuggling, and a number of suppliers have switched to legal sales of tobacco, say sources n the health system. In addition, the use of water pipes has increased. In recent years, the places for smoking water pipes have been springing up all over the Arab community, including near schools, and this popularity is spilling over to Jewish youths too, said a health system source.
The World Health Organization says that smoking a water pipe for some 45 minutes a day can expose the user to up to 50 liters of smoke, compared to only one liter from smoking a cigarette. Research conducted in Israel in 2011 shows half an hour of smoking a water pipe increases the concentration of poisonous materials in the bloodstream, an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, along with a drop in lung function.
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Some 8,000 Israelis die every year from diseases related to smoking and another 800 die as a result of second-hand smoke, which affects 38 percent of Israelis.
Among men, 25.9 percent smoke, compared to 15.9 percent of women. For Arab men the figure is much higher, 38.2 percent, compared to 23.2 percent of Jewish men. 7.2 percent of Arab women smoke, compared to 16.9 percent of Jewish women. The data puts Israel at number 17 among the 43 members of the OECD, with higher rankings representing greater levels of smoking.
The government takes in over 7 billion shekels ($1.96 billion) in revenues from taxes on smoking products. About 5.8 billion shekels of this comes from purchase taxes on cigarettes, 352 million shekels from purchase taxes on rolling tobacco, 52 million shekels from other tobacco products and about another 1 billion shekels from value-added tax on all these products.
The Health Ministry is also making efforts to help smokers kick the habit; 27,000 Israelis went to seminars sponsored by HMOs on quitting, the largest yearly number since such seminars began.
Another tool in the fight against smoking is the expansion of the ban on smoking in public places. On Wednesday, the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee approved stringent restrictions against smoking, including banning smoking at public events where 50 or more people are attending, and smoking close to a hospital or clinic, ministry, government office, religious council, city hall or court will also be prohibited.
Last year’s smoking report and the committee’s decision come at a time when the Health Ministry and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman are being heavily criticized for the way in which they are handing the smoking problem. The state comptroller released a report this month saying the Health Ministry has acted on behalf of the interests of tobacco companies in Israel, and has avoided taking essential actions to safeguard public health on the matter.