Fines for violating smoking laws begin today
JERUSALEM (October 1) - Starting today, police or municipal inspectors who catch people smoking in public places will give the violators a NIS 280 fine.
The catch is that very few municipalities are sending their inspectors to deal with non-smokers' complaints, and the hard-pressed police force is unlikely to have the time for it.
The law barring smoking in the last of public places where it had been permitted - shopping malls, schools, airports and lecture halls, as well as restaurants and cafes where a completely separate smoking room is unavailable - went into effect on August 1. But Health Minister Nissim Dahan, who formally signed the bill into law, set a running-in period of two months during which only warnings, but not fines, would be handed out. Restaurateurs had complained they had no time to set up completely isolated and ventilated smoking rooms, and since then few have actually built them.
The ministry and the Israel Cancer Association spent NIS 1.5 million on a two-week media campaign aimed at getting non-smokers to demand that smokers put out their cigarettes in public places. The campaign focused on the theme: "Don't die from being bashful. Ask that they put out their cigarettes."
Iris Fried, head of public information and health education for the Cancer Association, said the campaign raised awareness of the new law, but she conceded that she did "not see any reduction in smoking in public places as a result of it. It will be a gradual thing. The campaign did, however, make it more likely that smokers lighting up illegally would put their cigarette out if and when asked to by a non-smoker."
But the campaign did not advise people where to complain when the smokers ignored them. Dahan last week sent a letter to Interior Minister Eli Yishai (also of Shas) asking him to ensure that municipalities and local authorities enforce the law, which is aimed "at protecting the health of non-smokers in public places. Data show that toxins from cigarettes breathed in by non-smokers can cause great harm, and this we must prevent," Dahan added.
The Center for Local Authorities, headed by Adi Eldar, subsequently issued a statement calling on the municipalities and local authorities to send out inspectors and fine violators. "Enforcement is a complex matter that requires much municipal activism," Eldar added. "I hope residents will accept the law with understanding and not get involved in needless confrontations with municipal inspectors."
But the new law is blatantly violated in many shops, malls, eating places, Ben-Gurion Airport, and even in the courts.
Fried said that "the municipalities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are the worst" when it comes to enforcing the no-smoking law - even though the municipalities pocket all the fines. On August 1, Jerusalem workers at the 106 information line said that no inspectors would hand out fines for violations "except in City Hall itself or in the two Hadassah-University Hospitals," where inspectors' salaries are financed by the Hadassah Medical Organization. The Jerusalem Municipality said then that it demanded funds from the Treasury to hire additional inspectors, but none has been forthcoming. Asked again about the problem yesterday, municipal spokesman Hagai Elias did not comment. But the association has met in recent weeks with municipal officials from Ma'aleh Adumim (where she said inspectors will be available and an anti-smoking civic campaign is under way), Netanya, Haifa and Kiryat Tivon. Asked where people could complain about violations, she said her office would be glad to receive them (03-571-9577) and transfer them to the Health Ministry.
Ministry spokesman Ido Hadari advised complaining to one's municipality (usually the 106 number), and if that was not effective, calling the nearest district health office.