Government Torpedoes Bill to Raise Age Limit on Cigarette Sales

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FILE PHOTO: Hand rolled cigarette with tobacco and filter caps
FILE PHOTO: Hand rolled cigarette with tobacco and filter caps

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and former Health Minister Yaakov Litzman apparently undermined an attempt to raise the minimum age for buying cigarettes to 21 in a late-Monday-night deal alongside the drama surrounding the bill limiting minimarket operations on Shabbat.

The bill, named “Tobacco 21,” had been put forward by Likud MK Yehudah Glick. The bill would have forbidden selling cigarettes to anyone under age 21, up from the current 18. Glick had threatened not to vote for coalition bills including the minimarket bill if the tobacco bill was not advanced, arguing that tobacco is the number one cause of death in Israel and should not be treated as a minor issue.

Glick’s bill has widespread support among MKs, Health Ministry officials and the Israel Defense Forces. Yet the Ministerial Committee on Legislation decided to delay the vote on it a week ago, ostensibly because the Health Ministry sought to turn it into a government bill.

Glick’s declaration that he wouldn’t support coalition bills brought heavy pressure on him.

By Monday, the coalition tried to negotiate with him, proposing several alternatives: That the bill be implemented gradually, and that the age be raised by one year every year; that tax on loose tobacco be raised immediately, to bring it in line with the tax on cigarettes; and that tobacco advertisements be limited.

Glick refused to compromise.

Late Monday night, Shaked declared, “I won’t deny soldiers who could be killed in the army the option of smoking because of Yehuda Glick.” Litzman reportedly stated in response that he’d thought to take Glick’s side but wouldn’t, due to Shaked’s opposition.

Shaked’s ostensible defense of soldiers is strange, given that the IDF has been a strong proponent of anti-smoking measures, banning cigarette sales on dozens of bases, and supports Glick’s bill.

Shortly before the vote, the government came to a surprising compromise – a bill banning tobacco advertisements, with the exception of print newspapers. This means that the Haredi newspaper “Hamodia,” which is closely associated with Litzman, will still be able to receive its heavy advertising from tobacco companies.

Israel already limits tobacco advertisements, which cannot be aired on the radio, television, public movie screenings, plays, festivals or printed periodicals intended for children and teens. The World Health Organization recommends banning tobacco ads outright.

The new bill would thus ban tobacco ads online and on billboards.

The compromise may not be good news for tobacco companies, which would be banned from advertising on social networks. This has been the main means by which Philip Morris has been promoting its new products, which heat tobacco instead of burning it.