IDF Moves to Stem Smoking Among Soldiers

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Cigarettes. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

After months of planning, the IDF is putting into effect a plan to reduce the number of smokers in its ranks. The plan includes reducing the number of areas on army bases where soldiers are allowed to smoke, and as of November 1st, all sales of cigarettes on bases will be halted. In addition, disciplinary penalties will for the first time be imposed on soldiers who smoke in areas where the practice is banned. Until now the smoke-free zones have been voluntary, but now soldiers will be required to avoid smoking except in limited areas.

More than a fifth of Israelis 21 and older smoke, according to a Health Ministry report. A total of 22.5% of Israelis 21 and older smoked in 2016, 2.7% more than in 2015, the report said. Among men, nearly a third – 31.1% – smoked last year, while among women the figure was 15.8%. When compared to European Union countries, Israeli men smoked more than the EU average of 25.6%, while for women the average was lower than the EU’s 16.9A%. In the army, the IDF said, about 25% of soldiers smoked in 2016. However, 80% of soldiers complained that they were victims of secondhand smoke – hence the move to restrict smoking, the army said.

Among the chief aspects of the program to limit smoking is educating soldiers as to the risks of the practice. The army will also run workshops to help soldiers give up the habit. The workshops will be held wherever there are groups of soldiers who express interest in them. And, the army will also offer therapy and drugs to assist soldiers in kicking the habit, a program which outside the army costs some NIS 500.

The army thus joins the rest of Israeli society in severely limiting smoking. Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman is seeking to impose even more restrictions on smokers, including banning smoking even from spaces where it is currently permitted, increasing taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products, and bigger fines on individuals who smoke where they should not. The ban would also apply to open-air venues, like stadiums. And individuals who want to smoke outdoors would have to do so beyond a perimeter of ten meters (30 feet) from the entrance to a building. Fines on those violating the bans would be increased, and more inspectors would be hired to ensure that no smoking takes place at hospitals, government, and public institutions.

Smoking in public in Israel was banned nearly a decade ago, with smokers restricted to specific spaces in restaurants, bus stations, places of entertainment, banks, malls, and offices. Under current rules, the proprietors of establishments that choose to allocate spaces for smokers must ensure that no second-hand smoke escapes to bother non-smokers. It should be noted that setting up such spaces is not mandatory, and that many businesses and offices ban smoking on their premises altogether. The new regulations proposed by Health Minister Rabbi Litzman would eliminate the possibility of allocating those spaces altogether.