It’s illegal for Israelis to hold a cellphone while driving because of the lack of attention to the road and the failure to hold the steering wheel with both hands cause large numbers of road accidents.
But smoking while driving is still permitted by Israeli law – and this makes no sense. Smokers are distracted by lighting up and inhaling, and their failure to drive with two hands is very dangerous. There have even been cases in which drivers have bent down to pick up fallen lit cigarettes from the floor while driving, causing sometimes-fatal accidents involving themselves and their families.
In addition, children “held captive” by their parents in a smoky, nicotine-filled environment when the windows are rolled up endangers their health by second-hand smoking.
In 2007, the Canadian province of Nova Scotia became the first in that country to pass legislation banning smoking in cars with children and teenage passengers. Shortly after, similar legislation came into effect in Manitoba, Ontario, and British Columbia. In Argentina, smoking has been prohibited in cars with or without children since 2011. Other cities, states, and countries have followed suit.
The Israel Cancer Association, the Israel Medical Association representing all doctors and the Association of Public Health Physicians have just called on Israel’s transport minister, Bezalel Smotrich, to use his authority to prohibit drivers from smoking in vehicles. He could do this simply by including smoking in vehicles in regulations that prohibit drivers from touching their cellphones, either for calling or sending or reading messages or searching for online information.
In a letter sent to the minister, the three health organizations wrote: “It is known that smoking while driving increases the risk of being involved in road accidents. Section 28a of the Traffic Regulations stipulates the obligation that applies to every driver to hold the steering wheel with both hands as long as the vehicle is in motion. We urge you to immediately add another sub-regulation, which emphasizes that drivers may not smoke while driving,” they wrote. “Adding a second sub-regulation will help raise awareness of this difficult problem, enable more effective enforcement and help prevent accidents and deaths.”
The three organizations also stressed that besides the safety issue, there was also an important health matter. Smoking in vehicles exposes passengers, especially children and youth, to forced (passive) smoking. In addition, “third-hand smoking” that refers to exposure to toxic and carcinogenic particulate residues and volatile compounds that remain on objects long after the cigarette is extinguished is also very dangerous, the letter said.
“The hazardous substances are absorbed in the upholstery of the vehicles and the various surfaces, gradually released back into the air and causing health damage to passengers,” the letter continued. Babies and children are more susceptible than adults to the toxins from tobacco smoke in the home as well. They are exposed to this against their will. These poisons cling to clothing, hair, body skin, dust, furniture, curtains, walls, bedding, rugs in the home and to the upholstery of seats and other surfaces in vehicles.”
The organizations added that currently, according to the 2018 Health Minister’s report, about 20% of Israelis smoke. “Contrary to what is commonly thought, smoking is no longer part of the social norm. The requested regulation will require a small proportion of drivers to change their habits, but it will certainly protect everyone. According to data from the Ministry of Health and the Cancer Society.”
Every day, an average of 22 Israelis die every day from smoking-related illnesses such as lung cancer, throat cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart attacks, stroke, and sudden death. “In all, about 8,000 people die from tobacco each year, and over 800 of them are not smokers but just exposed to others smoke.
“We are working hard to eradicate this phenomenon, both in preventing medical harm to smoking and in preventing secondary harm from smoking. We ask that you respond to our recommendation and act as soon as possible to maintain the health and safety of passengers while in vehicles,” they concluded.
Under Israeli law, government ministers and senior government officials can draft or amend regulations in accordance with his discretion and authority.
So far, the transport ministry has commented. Enforcement is a problem. Although the Israel Police has significantly boosted its catching and punishing of drivers for touching cellphones, many still get away with the violation.