Cigarettes distributed to Haredi children on Purim

Science and Health

The sight of hassidic adults giving cigarettes on Purim to children in the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) town of El’ad enraged the Israel Cancer Association (ICA). “Giving a child a cigarette on Purim is like handing out samples of poison,” the ICA said in a statement on Wednesday. Giving smokes to boys on Purim was a common practice in the haredi community to show them they were “becoming a man.” 

“It is essential to understand that experimenting with smoking among children and teenagers is a dangerous gateway to the world of regular smoking for all its serious health damage,” the statement continued. “Getting access to cigarettes at a young age even once encourages children to start to smoke, when ‘just experimenting’ turns into addiction among teenagers, and this is because this is when the brain begins to mature and is learning. This causes addiction to smoking products such as cigarettes and electronic cigarettes faster and more powerful.” 

El’ad, established in 1990 for the ultra-Orthodox sector, lies east of Tel Aviv on Route 444 between Rosh Ha’ayin and Shoham. It has a population of more than 50,000 residents. 

Cigarette smoke contains about 7,000 different chemicals, including about 350 toxic substances whose harmful effects are powerful in different bodily systems. Some 70 of them, including cyanide, cadmium, benzopyrene and tar – are known carcinogenic (causing malignancies). 

Cigarettes and Israeli consumption

HAREDIM ON a Mea Shearim street corner during Sukkot. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Israeli law strictly prohibits the distribution of smoking products to consumers without compensation and especially to minors under the age of 18 for whom the sale is also strictly prohibited. 

The initiation of smoking among children in the ultra-Orthodox community leading up to and during the holiday of Purim is a “disturbing and dangerous custom,” said the ICA, which has worked to prevent smoking among children and youth from the ultra-Orthodox public in cooperation with yeshivot, haredi teenage girls’ high schools and rabbinical authorities. “We have distributed, free of charge, stickers and informative leaflets about the harms of smoking and ways to kick the habit, based on scientific studies. At the same time, we are distributing copies of the halachic ruling for the observant sector that prohibits smoking because it causes severe harm to health.” 

The ICA also has instructors, some of whom are haredi, who give dedicated lectures and training on the subject throughout the country. “We call on the heads of the congregations and the ultra-Orthodox authorities to combine the forces of the rabbis and the mobilization of the ultra-Orthodox leadership to eradicate smoking among children and young people in ultra-Orthodox society and to prevent the recurrence of such cases. 

“A week ago, the ICA launched a campaign called ‘Hide-and-Seek’ aimed at the ultra-Orthodox public that was broadcast on Radio Kol Chai, a haredi station,” it concluded. “The broadcast stressed the ban on smoking in public places and the dangerous effects of passive smoking. In the broadcast, a boy is heard counting as in a game of hide-and-seek and saying: “Whoever smokes behind me, on my sides and in front of me, endangers my life. Whoever smokes behind me, on my sides and in front of me, is guilty! Smoking is harmful to your health, so don’t let anyone smoke near you! It’s unhealthy and it’s illegal