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Turkey's smoking ban changes habits, inspires innovations

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 1/1/2010 12:00:00 AM | SEVİM SONGÜN

My assignment was to cover Turkey’s smoking ban that came into effect July 19 by violating it to see if it really worked. The problem was that I had never smoked, not even tried, not once.

I panicked when I was first assigned to this story even though it was not a risky assignment like covering a flood, a May Day in Taksim or a street clash between pro-Kurdish protestors and the police.

My assignment was to cover Turkey’s smoking ban that came into effect July 19 by violating it to see if it really worked. The problem was that I had never smoked, not even tried, not once.

While I was waiting for the car, I was saying to myself: “How am I going to do that? If I just pretend smoke, will it look like real? Of course not!” With ideas running through my mind, I got into the car and saw a colleague who is a smoker going to cover the ban as well. It was the only time in my life that I thanked God that my friend was a smoker.

First we went to a mall where we heard people used to smoke. A banner that read, “Smoking is banned here and the fine is 62 Turkish Liras,” was visible in all the cafes inside the mall. The banner also said, “Business owners who allow people to smoke can be fined up to 5,000 liras,” which is why some business owners were upset about the law.

We sat down at a café inside the mall. Intentionally breaking the law right in front of the eyes of the business owner was exciting. My colleague went to light a cigarette. Was the staff going to warn her not to smoke? They did. But what if she insists, like, I guess, many customers in Turkey might? The waiter insisted more strongly and she had to put out her cigarette.

That attempt failed, but we knew that smoking had been banned inside shopping malls before July 19. Malls should have implemented the ban in May 2008. It was one of the ban’s incremental steps to prepare people for the full ban.

After that ban in May 2008, a campaign called “Smoke-free air space” gained pace and became widespread. That is one reason why “the man on the street” was aware of the coming full ban. Another reason was they all knew that old habits were going to have to change after July 19.

Before coming into effect, there was a mixture of opinions about the ban. Non-smokers were happy, including me, hoping that they would finally be able to “breath” in cafes and bars. Some smokers were happy, saying that they will use it as a chance to quit. Other smokers were not so happy.

I was surprised when I heard that business owners ended up complaining about the ban more than the smokers. Business owners claim they will go bankrupt if the ban is not relaxed. There were many protests held by teahouse owners after the ban took effect. Coffeehouse managers in the Marmara region’s Kocaeli province gathered on Aug. 11 in front of one of their establishments and lit up to protest the ban.

One teahouse owner’s innovative efforts were admirable. He found a way to smoke inside without violating the ban via a homemade mechanism with two hoses that reached outside and enabled smoking in enclosed areas. Maybe it was not the first innovation, but I found it to be the most intriguing. Suat Karakaya, owner of a teahouse in Istanbul for 15 years, drilled two holes in a window and passed two thin hoses through each. A lit cigarette is attached to the end of one hose outside the window while the customer smokes from the other end in the comfort of the establishment. The offending cigarette never needs to come inside. The second hose is for the smoker to exhale the smoke back outside.

Early on, the ban was strictly carried out in teahouses, cafes and nargile cafes and entertainment venues. In restaurants and bars, customers are stepping outside for their smokes and that has brought some changes to the sector, as well. Especially, the sales of outdoor heaters have increased because entertainment venues want to attract smokers with heated outdoor seating.

I have heard, however, that not all entertainment venues are obeying the ban. It remains to be seen how strictly the ban will be obeyed at entertainment venues as Turkey descends into its cold wintry days.

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