When Americans visit Israel, they quickly notice the smoke. The sizable number of smokers in Israel always surprises me given the now decades-old warnings about the many dangers of smoking.

When I’m in Israel I tend to forgive a lot of the smoking that goes on around me—even in instances during which I may complain in the States. I ignore my discomfort despite the smoke that inescapably wafts toward me; despite the fact that I know I will end the evening with smoke-filled clothing, a sore throat, and dry, unhappy lungs; despite the smoking bans that are in place; and despite the fact that I have a degree in public health.

A law passed in 2012 restricts smoking in a number of outdoor public locations including swimming pools, central bus stations, and entertainment events in addition to a number of existing restrictions on smoking.  Unfortunately for my clothes and my health, not once have I been in a bar without seeing (or smelling) someone smoking inside.

A newcomer to Israel would assume that smoking is permitted in bars and outside venues like concerts; the ubiquity of smoking in the public realm makes the practice appear to be legal.

There have been various instances I have personally encountered in Israel that further suggest individuals’ disregard for the law:

  1. Seeing a bartender actually light customers’ cigarettes. Because if you’re already not saying anything about them smoking, why not help them out a little bit?
  2. Watching smokers on countless occasions smoke right next to a clearly marked “No Smoking” sign.
  3. And my favorite. My boyfriend and I were at a concert when two young women sitting a row in front of us began to smoke. After a few minutes, a mother with a child sitting a few rows behind us reached forward, tapped my boyfriend, and asked for us to please stop smoking. We shook our heads and pointed ahead to the women smoking in front of us. After researching the Israeli smoking ban, I now realize that sitting down at a public performance hall and smoking is not only impolite, it’s illegal.

With reports of apathetic enforcement by authorities, and a general lack of knowledge or concern about the details of the smoking ban among the public, the results of the law have (evidently) been less than ideal.

Conversations among nonsmokers about smoking in so-called illegal zones serve to further undermine the smoking legislation. Nonsmokers often refer to the behavior as “something everyone does”, which makes it that much more difficult to enforce.

As an American in Israel, it has felt particularly maddening to be back inside clouds of smoke. And I’m sure the many Israelis who are nonsmokers would appreciate it if people chose to abide by the law.

The numbers suggest that the percentage of smokers in Israel have declined across the board. This is great news. But it seems it will take more to prevent smokers from being shy about their status.