The national habit of smoking among many Israelis is a noticeable trait to most foreign visitors and tourists. Both former Prime Ministers Yitzchak Rabin and Golda Meir were frequently seen in public with a cigarette hanging from their mouths. Smoking is frequently taken up by many Israeli teenagers prior to their military draft age of 18.
It will therefore come as no surprise that smoking-related diseases accounted for the highest cancer mortality rate among men in Israel during 2013, according to a report recently published by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics.
While the most common cause of death in 2013 was cancerous tumors, heart disease followed close behind. Indeed, out of a total of 41,479 mortalities, 6,284 (15.1%) died from heart disease while 2,229 died from respiratory diseases. Similarly trachea, bronchial and lung cancer accounts for the most common form of cancer among Israeli men (24%).
Miri Ziv, CEO of the Israel Cancer Association (ICA), pointed out however, that the statistics in fact represent a significant drop. During the 80s, she told Tazpit Press Service that 45% of Israeli smoked compared to the current 19%.
“Definitely we know that smoking can explain 30% of cancer deaths and not only lung cancer but also problems with urine, the kidney etc. It is the leading preventable cause of cancer both by direct and passive smoking,” Ziv said.
Asked what is being done in order to reduce further the number of smokers in Israel, Ziv replied that the ICA has been the only organization which has attempted to launch various media campaigns.
“We had various campaigns such as depicting a cigarette as a worm to stop it from looking glamorous.”
But Ziv also commented that budget of the ICA is limited. “We had adverts in the newspapers and radio but our budget is based only on private contributions and donations. We are not funded. The campaign we do for smoking and cancer are all funded by us and it costs a lot of money.”
Alluding to the initiatives undertaken in partnership with the Israeli Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health, which include delivering lectures both in Hebrew and Arabic to schools and kindergartens, Ziv also stated that the Ministry of Health could take a more proactive role in the campaign against smoking.
Despite the shortcomings, smoking-related forms of cancer remain relatively low in Israel when compared with most countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Moreover, the 24% figure represents a drop of 13.9% in smoking-related diseases attributed to cancer since 1970.