The Black Packaging of Dictatorship

If the government can legislate our wellbeing in regards to smoking, why not in other areas as well?

| Topics: Smoking
Smoking in Israel is a national pastime. New anti-tobacco laws have not been well-received.
Photo: David Cohen/Flash90

“Fifty shades of ugliness” was the headline the daily Yediot Achronot chose for an article reporting on a new law concerning smoking and limiting tobacco products.

Legislated in November 2018, the law was only officially enacted on January 8 of this year. The new law adds to the 1981 legislation limiting cigarette advertisements, as well as banning tobacco vending machines and selling to minors. In particular, the new law requires that tobacco products be sold in unicolor black packages carrying only big warning labels reading, “Cigarettes cause disease and premature death,” “Hazardous for pregnant women,” and the like.

The law enacted now was in fact fiercely debated for over 20 years due to pressure from lobbyists who feared loss of revenues, and from lawmakers who cherish the NIS six billion in income from tobacco tax in 2018 alone.

Strangely enough, one of those objecting to this new law was none other than Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, head of the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party. It was under his pressure that tobacco companies were until now still allowed to advertise their products, albeit only in printed newspapers. Litzman was charged with having secret meetings with Philip-Morris aimed at promoting their electronic cigarette in Israel.


Stiff penalties

With the new law now enacted, vendors could face a stiff penalty unless they hide tobacco products behind a white plastic sheet. Customers buying a pack of cigarettes will receive a black box, the color chosen by our fastidious lawmakers for all tobacco packaging. More precisely, Pantone 448 C, considered to be the ugliest color known to man. The cigarette brand itself is printed in small white fonts, the law required it to be a Lucida Sans font size 14, thus making the appearance of all tobacco brands similarly unappealing.

Smoking in Israel faces aggressive opposition.

The picture here is just a sample, in this case of a popular Manitou rolling tobacco. On top is handwritten “white,” the only way the confused vendor can tell one Manitou from another. The big white label declares “Danger! Cigarettes cause disease and premature death.” At the bottom one can find the brand’s name. The previous package is shown to illustrate the difference.

Smoking in Israel is on the decline.

Smoking in Israel declines

The aggressive anti-smoking campaign seems to be working, and smoking in Israel is in decline. An Israel Health Ministry study from 2018 shows that 19.8% of Israelis above 21 years of age are smoking, a slight decrease from previous years. According to the Israel Cancer Association, 8,000 people die annually from smoking-related diseases. The Health Ministry says the new law can save 300-400 lives a year.

This law, however, infuriates smokers, who go so far as saying it violates their human rights. The well-known former mayor of Sderot, Eli Moyal, said already a year ago that “in a democratic state there are human rights … we are grown-up people who are aware of the risks we take … I have found no good reason to die healthy.” This law, he added, is dictatorial.


He’s not wrong

Moyal, one must admit, has a point.

Following his logic, why not legislate a law forcing food companies to reduce sugar in their products? Studies show that 15% of deaths in Israel are the result of sugar-related diseases. An OECD report from 2016 says that Israel ranks first among developed countries in sugar consumption per capita. Reducing sugar intake, reads the OECD report, can save thousands of lives each year.

Or how about a law limiting the driving speed to 25 MPH? In Israel alone, cars kill an average of 350 people a year.

Or what about legislating the use of sunscreen between the months of June and September? According to the Israel Cancer Association, every year some 200 people die from Ingrown Melanoma alone.

Moyal and others are afraid of an overprotective “Nanny state” that, in the name of one’s own good, could become oppressive.

In all fairness, however, Israel is not forbidding smoking. It’s only forcing smokers to buy cigarettes packed in black boxes, a very far cry from dictatorship.


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