Head to Head / What Do You Think of the Tightened Restrictions on Smoking?

An interview with Kadima MK Gideon Ezra.

Knesset Member Gideon Ezra (Kadima ) - formerly deputy head of the Shin Bet security service, and at different times minister of tourism, internal security and environmental protection - was a heavy smoker for more than 50 years.

In the past year, he has received treatment for lung cancer. Parallel to his work in the Knesset, he lectures to high school students about the dangers of smoking, from his personal experience.

ezra - Alon Ron - May 30 2011
Alon Ron

MK Gideon Ezra, how are you feeling now?

I'm okay and am in the process of recovering. I don't know whether I got cancer from smoking, no one can say that for sure, but I certainly think so. I smoked for more than 50 years, from the age of 18. Today I go for regular check-ups and come to work at the Knesset. In general, I'm okay.

What is your opinion about the government's decision to tighten supervision of smokers and smoking in Israel?

I believe there are restrictions that can be enforced and others that can't be applied at all. There's no doubt that it's possible to decide to ban the sale of cigarettes at the Duty Free [airport shops] or to decide there won't be machines for dispensing cigarettes. Those decisions can be enforced. It's also possible to decide to raise the price of cigarettes. All of these will have an effect on the smokers. But I can't understand what the role is of the new unit that will be set up in the Health Ministry. It seems to me it won't be able to carry out its function.

What authority will it have? If a person smokes in a place where it's forbidden, who says they will even be able to legally ask his name? The police, which have wider authority, have a lot of other jobs. I can't see one civilian unit, not the police, that will be able to enforce this today. There is no address for this right now.

I'll give you a different example. The Environmental Protection Ministry now has a supervisory unit. If someone is driving in a car and throws a cigarette out the window, it's possible to send a complaint with the number of the car. There's an address. On the subject of preventing smoking, there isn't. You certainly know that it's forbidden today to smoke in coffee shops. This is enforced because the owners don't want to get a fine. But they do allow smoking outside. From this point of view, the new program extends the way in which the subject is handled.

If that's the case, what is the most effective way to fight against smoking in Israel?

I think success in preventing smoking in Israel has to do mainly with the youth and preventing them from smoking in the first place.

How does one convince a youngster not to take his first cigarette? How can smoking among schoolkids be prevented?

How can students be convinced to stop? It wont succeed unless there is a special study program for our youths in school that will show them the damage caused by smoking. I initiated a bill on this subject but the Education Ministry made it clear that one already exists. I think that if they showed a film to the students that demonstrated the dangers of smoking and just how frightening they are, with pictures of the chemotherapy and the radiation and the fear, many of them would refrain from smoking in my opinion. It seems to me that the Education Ministry program that already exists is not enough. If we can get the youth not to smoke for the first time, we will have a lot of success later on.

You personally appear before students in an attempt to convince them not to smoke. When did you start these meetings?

I started only after I fell ill. A large number of educational institutions approached me. The kibbutzim and their educational facilities are the ones taking the matter most seriously. They devote more time to the subject than other schools that prefer to place emphasis on exams. When I started, I thought meetings with seventh graders or eighth graders would be a good idea. But when I met pupils of that age and asked them which of them smoked, they all raised their hands - to say nothing of the upper classes. The parents also play a part in the fact their children smoke. There's no doubt about it. It depends, of course, on the household. Therefore I think we have to start speaking about these subjects even before that, with pupils in elementary schools.

What do you tell the students that you meet?

I tell them what I went through, what the illness involves and what treatments a person who has cancer undergoes.

Were the students that heard your lectures convinced? Do you think you managed to convince youngsters not to start smoking?

I can't say that for sure. At the end of every lecture, I ask who will reconsider whether to start smoking. Some of them raise their hand. Did they stop or not? That I can't say. If you had heard a lecture of that kind when you were a youngster, would you have refrained from smoking? I think that if I had seen a threatening film about cigarettes and the damage they cause, the day before I started smoking, perhaps I would not. I can't tell you for sure. But I'm sure that a film of that kind would have had more of an influence on me than the instructions of the Education Ministry today.

Don't you think that in placing so many restrictions on the smoking public, there is some kind of persecution?

Yes, yes, certainly. Sometimes it's indeed persecution. I want people to come willingly to do those things and to stop smoking. In my opinion, there's still a great deal to be done in education. In the army it's easier. They make a corner on the base and state that only there is it possible to smoke. If a person is caught smoking somewhere else on the base, he knows he could face charges or go to military prison.

If the situation is so bad, perhaps it would be better to make smoking illegal altogether?

Why? Why should cigarettes be made illegal? Is it a crime? Look, drugs are illegal but still people have not stopped using them. It's very difficult to enforce this.