Turkey - smoking still major problem despite countrywide ban..

February 7, 2010 - A ban on smoking in all indoor places in Turkey was a hot topic of debate about two years ago, but despite resistance coming from many business groups, the government was determined to implement the ban.

The prime minister has been instrumental in this major move to improve the health of the citizens of Turkey. He is to be congratulated.. There is still work to be done.. The World Health Organization (WHO) Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2009 was unveiled in İstanbul, Turkey due to its successful implementation of a smoking ban in July 2009.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the smoking ban is supported by a great majority of Turks and that his government is determined to continue its battle against smoking. Speaking on Thursday, February 4th at a meeting of Yeşilay, an organization devoted to reducing alcohol and cigarette consumption, Erdoğan said nearly 17 million Turks smoke and noted that the law is currently supported by 95 percent of the people. “If many shops have been closed, even more have opened up,” Erdoğan added, underlining that cigarette sales have been falling since July 2009.

Many experts believe Turkey is the best example for the world as it embarked on a two-year journey to enact and successfully implement its ban on smoking. But even though Turkey’s smoking ban caused a decrease in the consumption of tobacco products, smoking remains a crucial problem in the country, experts say.

Professor Mustafa Erelel, a specialist on chest disease, said he wants the government to continue its work to prevent people from smoking because the smoking ban has brought positive results. Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, Erelel said he thinks there are three ways to get people to stop smoking.

One way is to increase tobacco product prices; however, this is not very effective because increased prices lead to more smuggled cigarettes entering the country. The second way is to ban smoking cigarettes, and the third is to restrict tobacco product advertising, the aim of which is to attract more people to use the products.

“The smoking ban has affected Turkey positively in terms of the health of both passive and active smokers because all indoor areas are now smoke-free. That said, smoking remains a major problem in Turkey. I went abroad last year to participate in a meeting and saw a signboard informing visitors ‘Do not smoke here, balconies included.’ I am grateful for the government’s first step to ban smoking, but I think it should make the ban even stricter and make Turkey 100 percent smoke-free -- just as Italy, New York and Ireland have done,” Erelel said.

Developing countries are the main battlegrounds in the fight against smoking, Erelel said. “Unfortunately, people start to smoke at the age of 12. They see smoking cigarettes as a game rather than as something that endangers their health. The main cause of lung cancer is smoking cigarettes,” he said.

Sevgi Aksu, president of the Anti-Smoking Foundation (SSV), said cigarette consumption decreased by 5 percent after the smoking ban went partially into effect in May 2008. The SSV is trying to solve Turkey’s smoking problem through encouraging people, especially young people, not to smoke; it finds the smoking ban a good approach. Aksu, speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, noted that Turkey’s fight with smoking started to show positive results in 2000, but they were not significant enough. “Cigarettes are more addictive than heroin or cocaine; however, a ban on indoor smoking will continue to cut tobacco consumption. We expect further drops in cigarette use with the increased prices of tobacco products. Smoking is such a significant problem that it can no longer be ignored. Everyone has the chance to stop smoking before it’s too late,” Aksu pointed out, underlining that every individual is responsible for encouraging smokers to quit.

The first phase of the law came into force on May 19, 2008. It prohibited smoking tobacco products in state buildings, including hallways and corridors, in all enclosed areas of educational, health, production, commercial, social, cultural and sports facilities and in public transportation vehicles, including taxis, buses, ferries and airplanes. As of July 19, 2009, the law went into full effect, with restaurants, coffeehouses, cafeterias and bars also designated smoke-free areas.

Coffeehouse owners and other businessman did not support the law because they thought the law would prevent customers from coming to their coffeehouses, resulting in a negative impact on their business. The majority of the Turkish public, however, saw the ban as a revolutionary step in the fight against smoking. The ban led many to quit smoking.

İlker Sezgin is one smoker who chose to quit after the smoking ban was put in place. The 28-year-old said he knew smoking was harmful to health, but he nevertheless continued to smoke for about 15 years. “It is difficult to quit smoking in our country because people think smoking is a good thing. What they don’t realize is that smoking kills. I started to smoke at 12 because my friends smoked,” Sezgin said, emphasizing that one’s social circle plays an important role in the matter.

Determined to quit one day, he said: “I told myself I was strong willed and would not continue to live with this poison. I put my cigarette pack in my pants pocket every day but did not even touch it. A week later I realized that I had started to breathe more easily and that food tasted better,” Sezgin said, advising smokers to stop smoking before it was too late.

PM Erdoğan: Turkey won’t change smoking ban

Many demonstrations took place after the smoking ban went into full effect in July 2009, especially by coffeehouse owners. Due to the indoor ban on smoking, coffeehouses could not go on as usual. Despite this, many polls taken immediately after the ban went into effect showed that 81 percent were in favor of the ban. Large numbers of people said it is nice to now be able to go out and enjoy restaurants and bars without breathing in tobacco smoke.

Reference: Smoking still major problem despite countrywide ban, ELİF AKDENİZ İSTANBUL, Sunday's Zaman, 2/7/2010.

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