Hinterland Green

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Turkey Joins Italy, France and New York City, in Banning Smoking in Bars, Cafes, Pubs and Restaurants

SMOKE SIGNALS: Tea and coffeehouse owners smoke water pipes in the
Izmir, western Turkey, as they gather in the city center
to protest against the smoking ban . Reuters

Tobacco-loving Turkey has become the latest country, after France and Italy, to go smoke-free. A new law takes effect today that bans smoking in bars, cafes, pubs and restaurants across Turkey, which happens to be the world's fourth largest tobacco producer, where 22 million people reportedly smoke on a regular basis. The ban has the approval of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who launched an anti-smoking campaign in 2007, saying that "it was important as the fight against terrorism." Turkey's decision to go anti-smoking is to comply with requirements set forth by the European Union, which it is seeking to join. The public is overwhelmingly behind the move as well.
The latest move is an extension of a ban issued in May 2008 on smoking in offices, public transport, shopping malls, schools, hospitals and other public places.
But the law also dovetails with the Islamic-rooted government's deep distaste for tobacco and alcohol. None of Erdogan's ministers smoke, and previous governments had been trying to introduce similar laws for years, only to be stymied by strong pressure from tobacco lobbyists. Turks spend almost $25 billion a year on cigarettes.

The government's zeal to get people to stub out their cigarettes is not without historical precedent. Shortly after tobacco was introduced to the Ottoman Empire in 1601, Sultan Murat IV banned the use and sale of tobacco — on penalty of death — after clerical decree. That ban, however, was repealed a little over a decade later, and smoking quickly became a status symbol, "one of four cushions of pleasure," according to one historian.

Despite the prevalence of smoking in Turkish society, recent polls show overwhelming public support for the ban — around 90%. "There's been an amazingly quick cultural shift," says Sylviane Ratte, a tobacco control expert who monitors Turkey for the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (also known as The Union). "People see it as a health issue. The main concern is that the ban be equally enforced." To that end, the Health Ministry has trained a 5,000-person task force to patrol establishments and dole out fines to anyone caught lighting up. For now, smokers who defy the ban will face a paltry $45 fine, but that's due to go up in 2010. The law is harsher on establishments — they face an initial $500 fine, which increases exponentially with every repeat offense. Source: Time Magazine
Turkey's latest move makes it the second developing country, after Uruguay, to institute a comprehensive ban. According to the World Health Organization, developing nations will account for 80% of the world's tobacco-related deaths over the next decade. That's staggering and mind-boggling at the same time.
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