Warning: Advertising Kills

Knesset to consider bill to restrict the advertising and marketing of tobacco products, giving ministers a chance to correct the damage

File photo, cigarettes in Israel.
Oren Ziv

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday is scheduled to consider a bill that could be the biggest, most important step in the battle against smoking in a decade – a bill to restrict the advertising and marketing of tobacco products.

This is a dramatic, far-reaching bill that addresses most of the methods that have effectively reduced smoking but which are not implemented in Israel, such as a general ban on tobacco advertising (except in the print media), including sales promotions, subliminal advertising and all marketing channels; a ban on displaying tobacco products publicly, forcing them to be stored in closed cabinets; putting the same advertising restrictions on electronic cigarettes, and requiring the poisonous substances in cigarettes to be publicized.

>> Some 8,000 Israelis Die Every Year From Smoking-related Illnesses, Report Says

The bill sponsored by MKs Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) and Yehudah Glick (Likud), which was finally adopted by the Health Ministry, isn’t new. It’s actually a softer version of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which Israel signed in 2005, albeit without the ban on ads in the print media and photographic warnings on cigarette packages. It’s also a carbon copy of a government bill from 2013, which died under pressure from the tobacco industry.

The efforts by the tobacco industry to block the law so far have found an eager listening ear in the Israeli legislature. This past Sunday it almost happened again: The ministerial committee was meant to simply take a formal vote and approve the bill for its first reading, after the Knesset Economics Committee had debated it for hours and approved it.

But at the last minute, it was enough for one letter making minor objections to one of the bill’s clauses – from the movie theaters, which share lobbyists with the tobacco industry – for the ministers to delay the vote at a crucial moment, only days before the Knesset recesses. The huge protest generated by this questionable move gave the ministers second thoughts, and the bill will come up again on Sunday.

Much has been said about the failure of Israel’s war on smoking: Legislation here is weaker than elsewhere in the West, the smoking rate in Israel is high and isn’t dropping, unlike elsewhere, and the loopholes in the law are turning Israeli citizens into lab rats, who are given “preference” by marketers of tobacco products, as well as new smoking devices that are banned in other countries.

The renewed debate on Sunday will give ministers a chance to correct the damage they almost caused. Some 8,000 Israelis die every year from smoking-related illnesses. They, and not economic interests, are supposed to be the government’s top priority.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.