Turkey - anti-smoking advocates happy with early results of smoking ban..

August 13, 2009 - It’s just over three weeks since a ban on smoking tobacco products indoors took hold in Turkey. Despite initial concern about how the public would react to prohibition, anti-smoking campaigners are so far delighted with the early results.

Now that the ban is in effect, authorities are shifting attention to enforcement, while continuing efforts to educate smokers and owners about the legislation, as well as raise awareness about the health risks associated with smoking. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. A nationwide team of over 4,000 anti-tobacco officers, comprising local officials and law-enforcement authorities, is responsible for following up on calls to hotlines, and for performing spot checks on establishments. An estimated 20,000 spot checks occurred during the first two weeks of the ban. These surprise visits indicated that 94 percent of the establishments inspected were conforming to the new rules; a figure that is a source of satisfaction for authorities.

But early implementation success is not breeding complacency within the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been an outspoken proponent of the ban. Officials are well aware of public opinion numbers that show over 90 percent of Turks support the ban, but only 48 percent think it will prove durable. Vigorous enforcement early on, then, may be the key to the ban’s ultimate success. Already, over 2,500 official warnings have been issued to smokers, and to proprietors who allowed smoking in their establishments.

For owners and customers of bars; reactions have been mixed. In late July, a cafe owner in the Tarlabasi District of Istanbul complained about lost business. "I normally have three or four tables occupied during the early evening, I’m now lucky if I have even one table," Tahir Silmaz said. "I won’t be able to survive like this, particularly in the winter." (Turkey - cafe owners complain about smoking ban..)

Outside another cafe two customers discussed their situations in relation to smoking outdoors. Marat commented that he still smoked inside the cafe sometimes in contravention of the ban. "It’s not always safe to smoke outside. . . . Look around you; there are women everywhere on this street. What happens if a man decides that I have been looking at his wife or girlfriend? It could start a blood feud."

Sadly, there have been instances of violence related to the ban. On July 29, four customers were asked to put out their cigarettes in the town of Saruhanli, in southwestern Turkey. A fight broke out and bar owner Hidir Karayigit, 46, was shot and killed, and his business partner shot and injured. "I’m deeply saddened that the first smoking-ban murder occurred in our town," the mayor Saruhanli was quoted as saying by the Hurriyet Daily. "They either shouldn’t have outlawed smoking or they should have outlawed alcohol along with smoking." (Turkey - smoker wounds manager and kills his friend when asked to stop smoking..)

Other owners have gone to extremes to circumvent the ban; including an owner in Manisa who simply removed the roof of his establishment. There is also an instance of a cafe in Istanbul where the proprietors installed two garden hoses that run outside, one containing a lit cigarette and the other hose for exhaling. In another case, a barber in Konya moved all of his shop’s the chairs into the garden.

In most cases, however, the ban is proving effective. Dr. Toker Erguder of the World Health Organization is delighted so far. Erguder "This is a very difficult period for Turkey, it’s in the top 10 smoking nations in the world; so far implementation has been very good."
Editor's Note: Jonathan Lewis is a freelance reporter and photographer based in Istanbul.


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Click on image to enlarge; this vendor sells no-smoking posters on the street for those businesses legally required to display a copy. Selling at $1.00 each, he has been doing good trade. Now, however, almost everyone has one. (Jonathan Lewis for EurasiaNet)