Tourist Tip #55 / Smoking

Some places turn a blind eye to illegal smoking. But even if they don’t care, the inspectors will, and you could be slapped with a hefty fine.

Earlier this year, Israel expanded its ban on smoking in public places to include bus stops, train platforms, and other communal spaces. This amendment also significantly reduced the size of the outdoor sections allocated to smokers in restaurants and cafes, ensuring that no more 25 percent of their overall area could be defined as a smoking zone.

But while these recent laws have been a breath of fresh air for non-smokers, it can still be confusing to navigate the rules in a country where it’s not an uncommon sight to see someone lighting up directly under a “no-smoking” sign.

Flagrant breaches of the rules aside, Israelis generally respect smoking restrictions on public transport and places like cafes and restaurants. At night, things get a little bit more complicated, as many bars and clubs allow customers to smoke in every corner of their establishments despite the law’s stipulation that at least 75 percent of the overall area remain smoke-free.

Rigorous enforcement of the smoking ban in many municipalities (Tel Aviv being the strictest among them) hasn’t been a deterrent for some of these establishments, which have even introduced warning systems, like a bright, prohibition-era style flashing light that alerts staff when inspectors are about to enter.

So the signs are up, the ban is in effect, but why are people still smoking? Well, part of it could be down to the fact that many places operate a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, where staff will tell customers who ask if they can smoke that it’s illegal, but won’t actually bother to stop those who light up without asking.

If you’re set on smoking, you can take your cues from the other customers – it’s safe to say that if people are happily puffing away regardless of the "no smoking signs," there's a good chance, but no hard and fast guarantee, that the place turns a blind eye to the rules.

But beware – even if they don’t care, the inspectors will. If you’re caught smoking you’ll be slapped with a hefty NIS 1,000 fine – which will have you fired up in a very different way.