On Tuesday 12 Teves, YWN-ISRAEL reported on a Channel 2 sting investigation in which persons affiliated with the Hamodia newspaper, which is tied to Health Minister Litzman, accepted cash to arrange meetings with the minister via is closest confidants. The report also shows how members of the senior ministry staff, physicians, were willing to turn a blind eye to importing electronic cigarettes, which reports show are harmful to the tzibur’s health, all to accommodate the e-cigarette company representatives, who were distributing cash envelopes.
As explained in the first report, the undercover reporters established a fictitious company, SEC (Smoke Electric Cigarettes) and approached ‘macherim’ in Hamodia, primarily Yaakov Reinitz, who in exchange for cash, arranged meetings with senior ministry officials and with Minister Litzman himself. The first meeting was arranged during Chanukah, less than two weeks before they first met with officials in the Hamodia office in Jerusalem. The SEC representatives were seeking approval from the Health Ministry, or at least to refrain from interfering with importing their e-cigarettes to Israel.
It was also explained that Channel 2 has documented Litzman has met with heads of international tobacco companies, which he is prohibited from doing as per the FCTC (WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) Agreement that was signed by many countries, including Israel. If the Health Minister does meet with such persons, the public must be advised, which did not happen here.
Channel 2 also points out that Litzman, to the surprise of all, has been a lone vote objection to legislation to get tougher against the tobacco industry, hinting that he may have been bought out by persons representing the tobacco companies’ interests.
In the final chapter of the report, Reinitz is recorded telling SEC folks “I am sitting in the minister’s office and I am told representatives of Phillip Morris were already here and they are supposed to meet with the minister.
The SEC representatives (Channel 2 reporters) entered Litzman’s office with their hidden video cameras and met with the minister along with personal aide and confidant to the minister, Moti Bobchik and of course, Reinitz.
They get right to the point, telling Litzman they wish to import electronic cigarettes in the coming weeks and seek the ministry’s assistance, adding “we already met with Prof. Itamar Grutto who said ‘at the moment it cannot be authorized’, but added you, the minister has the ultimate say in the matter”.
Litzman explains the matter is still being debated and at first, the thought was to prohibit the e-cigarettes, then instruction the SEC officials to continue to remain in contact with Prof. Grutto. He added “Whatever Itamar decides is what will be. I am not getting involved with this. At present I am dealing with junk food, not this”.
It is pointed out during this tenure, Litzman has not moved ahead any legislation seeking to curtail smoking and tobacco. The minister has also blocked legislation that seeks to limit or prohibit electronic cigarettes. Litzman advises them to remain in touch with Reinitz, who will be updated by him. The meeting lasted for seven minutes, during which they learned Litzman has given Phillip Morris permission to go ahead advertising a new product.
In a subsequent call with Reinitz, he promises SEC officials “A client of mine will not be …… and they needn’t worry”.
Once again Litzman’s office insists it has no knowledge of anyone asking for money or persons paying to see him. He insists his office is open to all and accepting money for such meetings is illegal and unacceptable. Regarding electronic cigarettes, Litzman’s office reports it is working to advance bills seeking to limit them in Israel. However, the minister’s voting record and ministry actions in recent months tell a different story, that the minister is not working against tobacco companies. In addition, Phillip Morris has invested “billions” in a new electronic smoking product and appears to have received a green light in Israel.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)