IDF Launches Major Campaign Against Soldiers Smoking Cigarettes

September 18, 2017

3 min read

By: Mara Vigevani

The Israeli military is going to war on cigarette smokers.

Starting November 1, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) will ban the sale of cigarettes on 65 bases across the country the army, said Sunday. The decision was taken in the wake of alarming data on smoking in the IDF, according to which the percentage of smokers in the army grew last year to 25 percent among men and 15 percent among women, and the percentage of soldiers who were exposed to secondhand smoke was 80 percent. The IDF’s manpower directorate has taken steps in the past to try and cut the number of soldiers who smoke,  such as prohibiting discounts on cigarettes and tobacco sold on bases. This time around, however, it is aiming for total victory.

After a trial period, the ban will be extended to other IDF bases; officers will not be allowed to smoke in front of  their soldiers, smoking in military vehicles will be prohibited and  a campaign will be launched to raise awareness among soldiers of the damage caused by smoking. The IDF’s Medical Corps will carry out workshops for soldiers who want to kick the habit, while smokers will be subject to medical surveillance.

Those who continue smoking will have to do so in separate specially designated areas.

“The Chief of Staff has determined that we are moving towards a revolution that will reduce smoking and its damage in the IDF with a vision to have a smoke-free IDF,”  said Brig. Gen. Meirav Kirshner, head of the IDF’s manpower department.

Last January researchers at the Hebrew University together with Dr. Vered Molina-Hazan from the IDF Medical Corps published a study, funded by the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research, which found that cigarette smoking increased by almost 40% during compulsory military service in the IDF. In a systematic sample of nearly 30,000 soldiers from 1987 to 2011, the prevalence of smoking grew from 26.2 percent at recruitment to 36.5 percent at discharge.

Dr. Hagai Levine formerly Head of the IDF Medical Corp’s epidemiology department of the IDF and now head of the Environmental Health Track at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) he was very pleased by the IDF’s decision.

“It’s a very important step forward, and I hope that the IDF will serve as an example to many others public organizations,” Levine said. “The increase we found in the rate of smoking during compulsory military service is of great concern in light of the serious consequences for public health. We must concentrate our efforts in the war against smoking in order to protect the health of young men and women, and to coordinate civilian and military efforts in order to fight smoking throughout the life course. I hope that the IDF will adopt similar measures to those implemented successfully in other armies.”

With regard to the claim that cigarettes helps soldiers to calm their nerves, Levine is very clear: “The tobacco industry created the idea that a cigarette can help soldiers to calm down after a battle only because of their economic interests. Many researchers have proved that cigarettes and smoke harm the health of soldiers. Soldiers who smoke have a higher chance of being hospitalized and they are less physically fit.  The IDF has built a program based on scientific evidence, and this is only the first stage. Later on the army will expand its anti-smoking measures.”

The military will begin decreasing the number of smoking areas on bases, ban smoking outside those designated zones, encourage commanders to refrain from smoking in front of their subordinates, and begin labeling smoking soldiers as such on their medical forms.

Over 2.5 million cigarettes and other tobacco products are sold each year in Shekem stores on IDF bases.

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