Social media was abuzz this week with images of MK Yehudah Glick (Likud) embracing MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union), in celebration of a bipartisan victory years in the making: On Sunday the Knesset approved a raft of strict regulations governing the advertising and promotion of tobacco products.
It was also a cross-aisle embrace of relief over the failure of last-minute efforts to make the bill a victim of the pre-election commotion.
Glick had threatened to vote against the government had he been ordered to vote nay.
The law is the most comprehension piece of legislation against smoking ever passed by the Knesset. It covers electronic cigarettes as well and bans all advertising and promotions of products related to smoking, with the exception of print media.
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It prohibits the open display on store shelves of tobacco products and stipulates that cigarette packages be colored brown.
The law threatens to deal a huge financial blow to Israel’s 9 billion shekels ($2.408 billion) a year tobacco and electronic cigarette industry.
The legislation grew out of a compromise with Glick’s original bill to ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21. When the Ministerial Committee for Legislation rejected the draft law, Glick threatened to vote against a controversial bill restricting retail operations on Shabbat and Jewish religious holidays. A compromise was reached to support the bill to restrict tobacco advertising and marketing, which had also been torpedoed in the past.
Print media was exempted from the advertising ban after an appeal by Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.
Tobacco companies lobbied vigorously against the legislation since it passed a first Knesset vote in January 2018. Even some physicians were recruited to the effort by the Juul e-vapor company, and airport personnel argued in favor of continuing to allows sales at duty free shops. Later the owners of kiosks also weighed in against the legislation, putting strong pressure on its proponents, including Cabel.
The tobacco industry was also supported by Likud MKs David Amsalem, Oren Hazan and David Bittan, who argued against the bill late in the legislative process.
But the lobbyists met stiff resistance from MKs Dov Khenin (Joint List), Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg, Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of Habayit Hayehudi and half a dozen of their colleagues who strongly favored the restrictions.
Likud lawmakers eventually got behind the bill, while the Health Ministry added the clause requiring a uniform color for cigarette packages.
But when the Knesset was dissolved to enable an early election, it became clear the bill could be lost forever unless it was passed immediately.
Even sworn opponents like Amsalem voted in favor of the bill, which passed by a vote of 45 to 1. The sole holdout was MK Yael German (Yesh Atid), a former health minister voting against it to protest the exclusion of print media from the advertising ban.
In the end, a revolutionary law was pushed through thanks to determined lawmakers and health care organizations, who put up a fair fight against the strong tobacco industry. It’s an excellent, hopeful lesson with which to start 2019.