2009-04-24

Smoke-filled Turkey cracks down on widespread habit

Smoking cigarettes is so widespread and deeply rooted in Turkey that even the French and the Italians - no slouches themselves when it comes to publicity - made "smoking cigarettes, and the Turks" their byword for chain smokers.

No more, says the Turkish Parliament, which has just joined many other countries in Europe, by adopting a law that prohibits smoking in bars, restaurants and cafes, and the next year.

Fair enough for a country negotiating its entry into the European Union.

But many Turks whether the law can be effectively applied in a country that is not only large consumers but also producers of tobacco - the fifth in the world.

In the smoky cafe in the downtown Kizilay, the heart of the Turkish capital, 22-year-old Murat chats as cigarette jiggles in the corner of his mouth.

"I'm smoker over time - of course I will comply with the new law, because I know tobacco is bad for you," he said.

But Ankara winter cold and the revitalization of external smoke is torture. "

At the heart of the city is in the bevy of private educational institutions that prepare high school graduates in Turkey is difficult university entrance examinations. Bars, restaurants, cafes and recently revived hookah houses - or Shisha bar, as they are also known - abound in the area.

"The Turks used to find ways around the law as they enjoy smoking cigarettes, so I wonder if this law would actually work," said Murat.

But the young woman from the next table said: "We have the right to a smoke-free life."

Large fines

In the Turkish parliament is dominated by the ruling Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has adopted a law on January 3.

President of Turkey Abdullah Gul, an avowed tobacco Hater like Mr. Erdogan, who is his close friend and an employee has ratified a bill on Friday.

The new legislation allows for 18-month "transition period" before the ban comes into force.

It originally provided for smoking areas in all public institutions, but has been tightened in the parliamentary debate, a simple ban of heavy fines - a lot of disappointing parliament smokers, many of whom stayed away from the session rather than vote against, and violation of party discipline.

After the law into effect next year, anyone who lights up in a public place will be fined 50 Turkish lira ($ 48) and allowed the creation of it will be fined by a whopping 5000 lire ($ 4800).

In complex jobs may be on law enforcement officers - many of them heavy smokers themselves - in a country where 60 percent of men and 20 per cent of women admitted being smokers.

And although doctors will be in Turkey among the first to preach the evils of the weed, Health Minister Redzhep Akdag sheepishly admits 50 percent of them said that they smoke.

"You must change the mentality," he said.

Social Equalizer

Despite the ever-increasing taxes - more than 60 per cent is still a relatively cheap price by an average of 4.00 lira ($ 3.85) for the package is in the state - is a persistent habit of smoking because it is a social equalizer.

Before the smoking of cigarettes was banned in all public transport several years ago, a cabbie first friendly gesture to rate climbing in his car was to offer a cigarette.

"What we are left with the cigarette smoking banned - how could we forget about the trouble?" moans accountant Erkan Cakir, 40.

He suggested that a conservative government "acting like Murad IV" 17 th century Ottoman sultan who punished smokers and drinkers with death only to die of cirrhosis of the contract for 28 of his love for the bottle.

Restaurateurs and publicans also fear for the future of their business.

"Less people will come, that's for sure," said Zeki Ulkenli, owner of one of Ankara most popular pubs in the upper part of the city.

"Maybe in the cities, we get new customers who stay away because of the smoke of cigarettes."

He thinks about how the authorities would enforce the laws in the village cafe - a small, smoke-filled rural tea houses, where after a working day, the farmers gather to exchange political views, a cup of tea, as well as a lot of cigarettes.

Mr. Ulkenli said that he had just hit the habit of smoking cigarettes.

"I'm back on cigarettes now," he admitted sadly.

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