Israeli researchers have found that nearly half of the country’s families suffer from secondhand smoke entering from neighboring homes and balconies.

Secondhand smoke refers to nonsmokers involuntarily inhaling smoke released into the air by active smokers. This smoke contains a mixture of thousands of chemicals, many of which are toxic and carcinogenic. Non-smokers who are consistently exposed to secondhand smoke can experience reduced lung function, increased respiratory symptoms and a higher risk of heart disease and lung cancer. It also poses special risks to children and pregnant women.

Not Speaking Up!
A recent study of 300 families conducted by Tel Aviv University revealed that almost 50% of families in Israel are grappling with second-hand smoke infiltrating their homes, primarily originating from smoking neighbors. But despite the health concerns, only a quarter of affected families opt to voice their complaints directly to the smoking neighbor, homeowner or building committee.

Led by Prof. Leah Rosen, the study uncovers the reluctance of individuals to confront their neighbors about the issue, citing a desire to avoid unpleasantness. Some respondents even reported having been compelled to relocate due to incessant smoking from neighboring apartments. This silence is raising concern among health experts.

“The fear of damaging neighborly relations often outweighs the desire to address the health risks associated with second-hand smoke,” Rosen said.

“A Growing Threat”
“Today Israeli law prohibits smoking at a distance of 10 meters from public places like hospitals and schools, but completely ignores [secondhand smoke] from smoking in balconies or next to windows. This is an absurd situation that leaves the public helpless in face of a constantly growing threat,” she stressed.

“It must be emphasized that there is no such thing as a safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. Even brief exposure to a small amount can cause great damage, including asthma and heart attacks. Since cigarette smoke can travel up to nine meters in the open air, it is very likely to infiltrate neighbors’ homes in crowded apartment buildings. A single smoker can cause infiltration into as many as 10 neighboring apartments.”

Government Intervention?
Israel’s High Court of Justice is reviewing an appeal against various government ministries for their failure to take action against secondhand smoke from neighbors who smoke on balconies, in yards, or near windows. The appeal, filed by the NPO “Citizens for Clean Air” and six citizens, contends that exposure to smoke from neighbors has caused considerable health damage and that the government must intervene to protect citizens.

“With almost half of the respondents acknowledging this problem, it’s evident that this is more than just a local dispute. It’s a widespread phenomenon that necessitates government intervention,” said Rosen.

“If the Court supports the appeal and compels the government to act, millions of Israelis could be safeguarded from the detrimental effects of tobacco smoke infiltration. Moreover, this could contribute to reduced smoking rates across the population, in line with global efforts to promote public health,” she added.

The team’s findings were recently published in the peer-reviewed Israel Journal of Health Policy Research.

Thirdhand Smoke
The study marks the third in a series of papers on secondhand smoke by the university’s researchers. In April, TAU found that “ thirdhand smoke” is more dangerous to children than previously realized.

Thirdhand smoke refers to the residual chemicals in a cigarette becoming absorbed into the home environment as nicotine and other cancer-causing substances embed as dust in soft surfaces like clothing, furniture, rugs, bedding and plush toys. Studies show that thirdhand smoke particles can remain in soft objects for months after a smoker stops, and can be discharged into the air again at a later time.

According to a National Program for Quality Indicators report released last November, smoking is on the rise in Israel.

Approximately 20.1% of Israelis aged 16 to 74 smoke, up from 19.6% in 2019.