Background: Tobacco is the only consumer product known to kill half of its users, and is a significant cause of death and disability to exposed nonsmokers. This presents a unique conundrum for modern democracies, which emphasize personal liberty, yet are obligated to protect citizens. In Israel, the death toll in 2014 from smoking is expected to reach 8000 deaths; nearly a fifth of the population smokes, and over two-thirds of the population are exposed to tobacco smoke.
Aim: This paper provides an overview of tobacco policy in Israel since the inception of the State, presents the development of the National Tobacco Control Plan, and recommends future actions.
Methods: Sources for this article included the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and Ministry of Health websites, Health Minister Reports to the Knesset on Smoking, and the scientific literature.
Results: Israel has an impressive record on tobacco control policy, beginning with taxation in 1952, landmark smoke-free air and marketing legislation in the early 1980's, tax increases and expansions of smoke-free air and marketing legislation in the ensuing years, and the addition of subsidized smoking cessation technologies in 2010. Until 2011, actions were taken by various organizations without formal coordination; since the passage of the National Tobacco Control Plan in 2011, the Ministry of Health has held responsibility for coordinating tobacco control, with an action plan. The plan has been partially implemented. Smoke-free air laws were expanded, but enforcement is poor. Passage of critical marketing and advertising restrictions is stalled. Requested funds for tobacco control did not materialize.
Recommendations: In order to prevent hundreds of thousands of preventable premature deaths in the coming decades, Israel should considerably strengthen tobacco control policies to include: guaranteed funding for tobacco control; strong curbs on advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco and smoking products; public education; law enforcement; protection of children from exposure to tobacco; regulation of electronic cigarettes and other alternative harm-reducing products; tobacco control research; and systematic monitoring of, and periodic updates to, the National Tobacco Control Plan. Israel should also begin discussions of Endgame scenarios, and consider abolition of tobacco, as it continues its progress towards making smoking history.
Keywords: FCTC; Health policy; Israel; Legislation; MPOWER; Secondhand smoke; Smoking; Tobacco control; Tobacco policy; Tobacco smoke exposure.