Palestinian Israeli Town Says No to Smoking

4 June 2015

In a country where smoking is commonplace and widely accepted, residents in the Palestinian Israeli town of Cabul are taking a stand against tobacco.

In a historical first for Israel, residents of the Galilee town held an anti-smoking rally last Sunday on International No Tobacco Day. Participating wore red “Cabul says no to smoking!” t-shirts.

In addition to a speeches by the mayor and others, Dr. Khaled Hibi, a Cabul resident and graduate of Shatil’s Northern Health Equity Leadership Training, gave smoking cessation tips. The event is a ripple effect of Shatil’s project to bridge the gaps in healthcare between the north and center of the country and was organized by the Shatil-led Arab-Jewish Citizens’ Forum for the Promotion of Health in the Galilee, another outgrowth of the project.

Efforts to reduce smoking have succeeded in much of the world, including among the Jewish population of Israel. But the habit is only growing in the Arab sector, especially among youth. Forty percent of Arab men smoke, almost double the rate of that of Israeli Jews. The dearth of smoking cessation activities in the Arab sector is yet another reflection of the lack of public resources invested in the Arab sector.

“In everything related to smoking, there are really two states here,” said Forum member Dr. Hibi.

A working group from the Citizens’ Forum, led by Dr. Hibi with the cooperation of local authorities, were prepared to conduct a smoking cessation and prevention pilot program in Cabul schools, but the Ministry of Health stipulated that to do so, the town must have a public health expert on its payroll, something the poor town cannot afford and which the Ministry is not prepared to fund.

Dr.Hibi, who stopped his own heavy smoking habit five years ago, said: “The government collects millions of shekels in cigarette taxes but when a small sum is needed to prevent smoking in our schools, the Ministry of Health can’t find the funds. The right hand collects taxes and the left hand doesn’t release them for their purpose: smoking reduction.”

The Forum and Dr. Hibi are optimistic that the new Minister of Health, Ya’akov Litzman, who has demonstrated sensitivity to the needs of the periphery, will positively respond to their demands.