Israel expands smoking ban in public places

Men smoking in Jerusalem pub Image copyright Dan Porges/Getty Images
Image caption Water-pipe tobacco sales have shot up in recent years

Israel has ramped up its tough restrictions on smoking in public to include previously designated spaces.

Smoking tobacco is now prohibited in all government offices, courts, religious councils, hospitals and clinics, and the ban will also be applied to concerts, demonstrations and all open-air events attended by more than 50 people, the Ynet news site reports.

There will also be a complete ban on smoking at swimming pools, open-air sports facilities, playgrounds, zoos, the entrances to pre-schools, and in closed car parks.

Some venues will be allowed to designate smoking areas at least 10 metres from the entrance "as long as they do not inconvenience other parts of the facility, or residences", Ynet says.

The new restrictions were set out in a bill in May. It came into force on 1 September, after years of complaints by campaigners that the health ministry had not done enough to tackle the relatively high rate of smoking in the country.

Further restrictions planned

The Health Ministry's Moshe Bar Siman Tov promised parliament in May that the government would also ban smoking areas in bars and restaurants, Ynet reports.

Council inspectors will be allowed to fine individuals 1,000 shekels (£214 ; $277) and the owners of public spaces 5,000 shekels (£1,069; $1,385) if the new rules are broken, but the health ministry acknowledges that many local authorities have not even been enforcing previous bans.

Israel's 1983 Clean Air Act was amended in 2007 to fine owners of commercial properties permitting smoking in enclosed spaces, but allowed them to provide well-ventilated and completely separate areas for smokers as long as these accounted for no more than 25% of the whole premises.

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Reshet 13 TV sent reporters out in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv the day the measures came into force and found people still enjoying a smoke in various forbidden places, including a crowded playground, with no officials to stop them.

When the channel asked 11 large municipalities how they were applying the new rules, they either failed to reply, said they "still studying the regulations", or complained that inspectors were too busy with the start of the new school year.

World Health Organisation figures from 2016 said that 25.4% Israelis over the age of 15 smoke, compared to the world average of 21.9%.

The Times of Israel news site adds that sales of tobacco - especially that used in water pipes - actually rose the following year.

Image copyright Diego Cupolo/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Image caption Smoking areas in cafes are safe for now

Reporting by Martin Morgan

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