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Home News Turkish parliament makes “smoking like a Turk” a thing of the past

Turkish parliament makes “smoking like a Turk” a thing of the past

Published on 18/01/2008

   ANKARA, Jan 18, 2008 (AFP) - Smoking is so widespread and deeply rooted inTurkey that even the French and the Italians - no slouches themselves when itcomes to lighting up - have made "smoking like a Turk" their byword for chainsmokers.   No more, says the Turkish Parliament, which has just joined many othercountries in Europe by enacting a law that will ban smoking in bars,restaurants and cafes.   Fair enough, for a country negotiating its entry into the European Union.But can the law be effectively applied, many Turks wonder, in a country thatis not only a great consumer, but also a producer of tobacco - the fifth inthe world.   "I am a smoker of the times - of course I will abide by the new law becauseI know tobacco is bad for you," said 22-year-old Murat, who would only givehis first name.   "But Ankara winters are cold and stepping outside for a smoke is going tobe torture," he said, a cigarette jiggling in the corner of his mouth during achat in a smoky cafe in downtown Kizilay, the heart of the Turkish capital.   The city centre is home, among many other businesses, to a bevy of privateeducational institutions that prepare high school graduates for Turkey's toughuniversity entrance exams and bars, restaurants, cafes and recently revivedhookah houses -- or shisha bars, as they're also known -- abound in the area.   "Turks enjoy finding a way around the law as much as they enjoy smoking,"Murat said, "so I wonder if this law will really work."   "We have a right to a smoke-free life," interrupted a young woman from thenext table.   The Turkish parliament, dominated by the governing Islamist-rooted Justiceand Development Party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, enacted the lawon January 3.   It still needs presidential approval -- a sure thing, as President AbdullahGul is as avowed a tobacco-hater as his close friend and associate Erdogan --and there will be an 18-month "transition period" before the law comes intoeffect.   The bill initially provided for smokers' zones in all publicestablishments, but was toughened during the parliamentary debate to anoutright ban with heavy fines -- much to the chagrin of parliament's smokers,many of whom stayed away from the session rather than vote against and breachparty discipline.   Once the law is in effect, anyone who lights up in a public place will befined 50 Turkish lira (29 euros or 42 dollars) and the establishment allowingit a whopping 5,000 lira (2,900 euros or 4,200 dollars).   The toughest job may fall on law enforcers -- many of them heavy smokersthemselves -- in a country where 60 percent of men and 20 percent of womenadmit to being smokers.   And although they will be among the first to preach the evils of the weed,Health Minister Recep Akdag sheepishly admits, 50 percent of Turkey's doctorssay they are smokers.   "Mentalities must change," Akdag says.   But smoking is a persistent habit despite ever increasing taxes -- morethan 60 percent of the still relatively cheap average price of 4.00 lira (2.30euros or 3.40 dollars) a pack goes to the state -- because it is a socialequalizer.   Before smoking was banned in all public transport several years ago, acabbie's first friendly gesture to a fare climbing into his car was to offer acigarette.   "What will we have left if smoking is banned -- how do we forget our woes?"bemoaned accountant Erkan Cakir, 40.   He covertly accused the conservative government of "acting like Murad IV,"the 17th-century Ottoman sultan who punished smokers and drinkers with death-- only to die himself at 28 of cirrhosis contracted by his fondness for thebottle.   Restaurateurs and publicans too fear for the future of their businesses.   "Fewer people will come - that's for sure," said Zeki Ulkenli, owner of oneof Ankara"s most popular uptown pubs.   "Maybe in the cities, we'll get a new clientele that used to stay awaybecause of the smoke," he added optimistically.   "But how they'll apply the law in village cafes, I don't know," he said,referring to the small, smoke-filled rural tea-houses where, after a day'slabour, farmers gather to share political views, a cup of tea, and many, manycigarettes.   Ulkenli, a cigar-smoker, said he had just kicked the habit himself.   "I'm back on cigarettes now," he acknowledged ruefully.

AFP