Turkish parliament makes "smoking like Turks" a thing of the past

ANKARA (AFP) - 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 can the law be effectively applied, many Turks surprising in a country that is not only large consumers but also producers of tobacco - the fifth in the world.

"I'm smoker over time - of course I will comply with the new law, because I know tobacco is bad for you," said 22-year-old Murat, who will be only his name.

But Ankara winter cold and the revitalization of external smoke cigarettes is torture, he said, a cigarette jiggling in the corner of his mouth while chatting on the smoky cafe in the downtown Kizilay, the heart of the Turkish capital.

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

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

"We have the right to smoke cigarettes - a free life," interrupted a young woman with the following table.

Turkish parliament, dominated by the governing 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 his close friend and associate Erdogan, ratified the bill on Friday.

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

It was originally designed for smokers zones in all public institutions, but has been tightened in the parliamentary debate, a simple ban of heavy fines - a lot of disappointing the Parliament of smokers, many of whom stayed away from the session rather than vote against the 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 (29 euros or 42 dollars) and the creation of enabling her huge 5000 lire (2,900 euros or 4,200 dollars).

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 they will be among the first to preach the evils of the weed, Health Minister Redzhep Akdag sheepishly admits 50 percent of Turkey's physicians said that they smoke.

"You must change the mentality", Akdag said.

But smoking cigarettes is a persistent habit, despite all the tax increases - more than 60 per cent is still a relatively cheap price by an average of 4.00 lira (2.30 euros or 3.40 dollars) a pack goes to state - because it is a social equalizer.

Before smoking 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?" bemoaned accountant Erkan Cakir, 40.

He accused the conservative government in secret, "acting like Murad IV" 17 th century Ottoman sultan who punished smokers and drinkers die - only to die himself at 28 of cirrhosis of the contract with the love of the bottle.

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

"Less people will come - that's for sure," said Zeki Ulkenli, owner of one of Ankara with the most popular uptown pubs.

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

"But how they will apply the law in the village cafe, I do not know," he said, referring to the small, smoke cigarettes - to fill in the rural tea houses, where after a working day, the farmers gather to exchange political views, a cup of tea, and many cigarettes.

Ulkenli, and cigarettes - smokers, said that he had just hit a habit.

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

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