On May 31, the Israel Cancer Association observed the International Day to Promote the War on Smoking in tandem with the World Health Organization, which organizes the World No Tobacco Day. The day is observed to stress the health risks associated with smoking and the effective policy steps nations can take to reduce the number of smokers.
This year, the WHO focused on the relationship between smoking and heart disease and reported that heart and blood vessel diseases caused by smoking kill more people than any other single factor in the world. The use of tobacco and exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke cause some 12 percent of all heart disease mortalities. The plague of smoking kills more than 7 million people a year, including some 900,000 non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. This means that, every day, some 19,000 people die of diseases associated with smoking.
In honor of World No Tobacco Day, the ICA, which works year-round to prevent illness and mortality from cancers caused by smoking, emphasized the proven ways to end this addictive, deadly habit. Based on Ministry of Health data, 22 people in Israel die every day of diseases associated with smoking, such as lung cancer, throat cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart attacks, strokes, and sudden death.
As part of World No Tobacco Day, ICA representatives Miri Ziv, Vice Chair and former Director General, Dr. Avital Pato Benari, an educator who directs the ICA’s Information and Wellbeing Department, and Dr. David Biton, the ICA’s Information Coordinator, were interviewed by various media. The topics dealt with alarming data on the damage caused by smoking in Israel and the world and how to prevent the deadly phenomenon.
The Coalition of Anti-smoking Organizations formed in 2016 to fight smoking together was the brainchild of the ICA and Dr. Milka Donchin, Chair of the Network of Healthy Cities of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel. Members of the coalition include Ministry of Health representatives, the Education Ministry, the Israel Medical Association, the national health clinics, the National Council for the Prevention of Smoking, the Medical Society for the Prevention of Smoking and Treatment of Addiction, local councils, the End to Smoking Initiative, and others. The Coalition provided local councils with a kit of messages and suggestions for action labeled “Smoking Burns a Hole in Our Heart.” The kit and roll-up banners were sent for use by local councils, youth movements, organizations, and companies to encourage them to hold broad informational and educational activities on the dangers of smoking and how to quit the habit.Among the activities the coalition has carried out are:
The Israel Cancer Association, the Network of Healthy Cities, the Association of Public Health Physicians, and the Medical Society for the Prevention of Smoking and Treatment of Addiction of the Israel Medical Association issued a statement saying: “The activity in the Knesset proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a broad front of organizations and Knesset members from all political parties willing to wage a determined battle against the damage of this addictive, deadly habit for the sake of public health.”
As part of World No Smoking Day, Beit Mati, the ICA’s home in Givatayim, again hosted the Annual School Competition on Tobacco Prevention in honor of the late Dr. Marcus.
The event was the capstone to a year of extensive anti-smoking activity in schools. The competition was made possible thanks to cooperation between the Israel Cancer Association, SHEFI (the Education Ministry’s Psychological Services), the Ministry of Health, and the Israel Lung Association.
Dr. Marcus, who served as the Chair of the Israel Lung Association, was active in smoking prevention and cessation and instituted the school competition. Members of his family, who honored the event with their presence, presented the winners with their prizes. Dozens of schools from all over Israel participated in the competition, which involves research papers, video productions, new initiatives, and presentations on smoking prevention. Six schools reached the finals. The students, teachers, principals, and academic advisors presented their work. In the elementary school category, the Herzog School in Beer Sheva took first place; second place went to the Tze’elim School in Eilat. Because of the distance, its representatives could not attend in person, but were able to watch the proceedings live on a giant screen. For the secondary schools, the winners were from the Beit Hanina Comprehensive School in Jerusalem; second place was shared by the Afu Fa’our Comprehensive School in the Shaab Local Council, the TALI School in Jerusalem, and the High-Tech High School in Holon.
The Israel Cancer Association presented its award for promoting the fight against smoking to journalists Roni Linder Gantz of The Marker, Haim Rivlin of the Israel Television News Company, and Judy Siegel-Itzkovich of The Jerusalem Post. The award was bestowed during the ceremony summarizing the ICA’s activities for 2017 and took place at the Givatayim Theater in March 2018.
ICA Vice Chair and former General Director Miri Ziv said that “Smoking is the leading cause of cancer deaths. The Israel Cancer Association decided to bestow this honor on these journalists to express its appreciation for their important contribution to help wage the battle against this addictive, deadly habit. Their persistence in covering smoking in Israel has made a significant impact on the public agenda and become a crucial part of the battle. The ICA works to reduce smoking through providing information and supporting legislation and enforcement on behalf of public health, and the media play a critical role in this.”
The Israel Cancer Association took advantage of the many trending “Tasty” videos, which show how to make delicious foods, to upload a scary version for making a hookah, with help from the Zivlin advertising agency, which produced the video pro bono. The video for digital platforms shows a speeded-up pair of hands chopping, adding, and mixing a recipe for preparing a hookah. Among the ingredients are the toxins that are present in real hookahs. It was uploaded to the media to mark World No Tobacco Day, observed in Israel and abroad on May 31. The video is fast-paced, just like the food videos that have been getting millions of views in recent years. The goal was to send a message to young people that, even though hookahs come in pleasant fruit flavors and aromas, they contain toxins and carcinogens that are dangerous to one’s health. Like cigarettes, smoking hookah increases one’s risk of cancer, lung disease, other diseases, and addiction. The rationale behind the video was to expose the truth behind the myth that smoking a hookah is a harmless social activity. There are many myths surrounding hookah smoking, and it is important to the ICA to inform young people and their parents that smoking hookah is not harmless, but rather like any other type of smoking. Therefore, the video ends with the line: “Don’t live in a bubble. Hookah is poison.”
The Israel Cancer Association has launched a digital campaign targeting young people to combat smoking in the Arab sector. The video features opinion leaders trying to change social norms associated with smoking. By using social media, the ICA encourages young people not to start smoking while also breaking the specious link between smoking and a macho image.
The video, launched in honor of World No Smoking Day, features Islam Kanwati, a gym owner and popular figure with many followers in social media who appeared pro bono. The video was viewed over 500,000 times. Other than the video, there were posts on Facebook and internet banners to spread the word.
The campaign was produced by advertising agency Fekra Digital, led by Youssef Mazawi and supported by Faten Ghattas, ICA’s Coordinator of Activity in Arab Society.
Last May, the Israel Cancer Association contacted the CEO of Reshet TV. The letter stated: “The move of the show ‘Big Brother’ to Reshet TV is an opportunity to make this a no-smoking show. Please take advantage of this opportunity to reformat the program, and produce a successful format that is free of smoking, a behavior that definitely constitutes advertising for a deadly habit that takes so steep a toll on human life and suffering in Israel.” Reshet TV answered that the idea was forwarded to the CEO of Endemol Israel, the producers in charge of the format, and the show’s chief director. “We will be happy to contact you after we see progress in the production,” the response stated. As of May 2018, when the show went on the air, although smoking had not disappeared altogether, it was clear that the notion had been assimilated in Reshet TV’s version of the program and that smoking on screen on “Big Brother” was dramatically reduced. The ICA welcomes the change.
The Israel Cancer Association participates in many Knesset debates on topics such as marketing and advertising tobacco products in Israel, expanding the ban on smoking in public, etc., and produces position papers for these debates that are based on proven ways to reduce smoking rates. These position papers may be accessed via the ICA’s website and the Knesset committee webpage.
In preparation for a debate in the Knesset Finance Committee, representatives of Israeli health organizations – the Association of Public Health Physicians, and the Medical Society for the Prevention of Smoking and Treatment of Addiction, the National Council for the Prevention of Smoking, the Ban Smoking Initiative, and the ICA – sent a letter to committee chairman MK Eitan Cabel about banning advertising and limiting the sale of tobacco, nicotine, and smoking products in Israel. The letter noted that “Israel is behind in the war on smoking and its consequences and the data on smoking in Israel remain disturbing, making it imperative that the measures detailed in the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to which Israel is a signatory and has ratified, be immediately implemented, as well as the measures adopted by the National Program on Reducing Smoking and Its Consequences that was approved by Knesset Decision No. 3247 on May 29, 2011.”
The Association of Public Health Physicians, the Medical Society for the Prevention of Smoking and Treatment of Addiction of the Israeli Medical Association, the Israeli Union of Wellbeing Promoters and Educators, and the Israel Cancer Association have called for the government, especially the Ministry of Health and its head, Deputy Minister Yaakov Litzman, and the Finance Ministry and its head, Minister Moshe Kahlon, to act more forcefully in saving the lives of thousands of Israelis.
As demonstrated in the State Comptroller’s report, the lack of consistent policy and absence of motivation by the ministries’ directors in leading changes that have proven to be very effective are costing human lives and taking a toll on public health and will probably result in Israel failing to meet its goal of reducing smokers by 15 percent by 2020 (based on the Ministry of Health’s Strategic Health Plan for 2020).
The data from the health minister’s reports of recent years, as well as his current report, show that Israel has not made any progress since 2012 and that the rates of smoking are not declining as they should. In contrast, nations with a comprehensive, consistent, and determined policy saw significant drops in smoking rates during the same period.
ICA Vice CHair and former Director General Miri Ziv noted that “We can and must bring the smoking rate down to single digits. To do so, we must act consistently and energetically through legislation and enforcement. Israel, led by the Ministry of Health, must protect the younger generation from the addictive, deadly habit of smoking, and raise a new generation of Israelis who are free of the nicotine addiction.”