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Turkish nation warned about cigarette warnings

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 7/14/2010 12:00:00 AM | Özgür Öğret

Warnings on cigarette packages cause debate for not being strong enough deterrents as the Turkish Health Ministry reportedly deems one in particular unfit for Turkish family values. The ministry denies objecting to the image in question, but says the current set of pictures are not graphic enough overall for its taste

An anti-smoking advertisement on Turkish cigarette packages showing an unhappy couple in bed has drawn the ire of the Health Ministry, which claims the image is “inappropriate” for Turkish families and does not deter people from smoking.

“The ‘couple sitting apart in bed’ was ‘not appropriate to Turkish reality’ in that a half-naked married couple cannot be portrayed like this,” a story published Wednesday in the daily Milliyet said.

As part of the anti-smoking acts of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, since May 1, 2010 companies are no longer allowed to produce tobacco products without putting illustrated warnings on the packs.

The Health Ministry has disagreed with the Tobacco and Alcohol Market Regulatory Agency, or TAPDK, on the pictures, which are used as warnings to inform the public that smoking may cause cancer, impotency and prevent childbirth.

Some of the pictures used for the messages include a darkened human lung next to a healthy one, a woman with an empty pushchair and a couple avoiding looking at each other in bed.

The ministry has said more graphic pictures should be portrayed on cigarette packages.

The ministry, however, was most upset by the picture of a couple sitting in bed and looking unhappy as they stare in opposite directions and said the couple did not look Turkish, according to a story published Wednesday in the daily Milliyet.

[HH] The mysterious conversation

Speaking Wednesday to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, Health Ministry official Salih Dereli said the Milliyet story was exaggerated.

“The pictures are not a deterrent when compared to other examples in the world,” he said, denying that the ministry had objected to the picture for being “unrealistic and inappropriate.”

When asked about the text of the objection, Dereli said there was no written record of the original complaint and that the matter emerged during a regular meeting the ministry holds with the TAPDK.

When asked which ministry official spoke to which board member and when, Dereli said he did not know.

“The ministry does not have a comment on the couple – it just says the pictures are not enough of a deterrent,” he said.

A TAPDK employee speaking to the Daily News said he did not have the authority to speak to the press in the name of the board but said he was unaware of either a text or a conversation on the matter.

Mithat Yurdakul, the reporter for the daily Milliyet who wrote the original story, told the Daily News that his source had told him that the matter, including the uneasiness with the couple, was mentioned in a meeting between the ministry and the agency and that he was sticking by his story.

[HH] Smokers respond

When asked her opinion on the debate, smoker Aslı Didem Demirci, a translator, said, “The ministry may have thought impotency did not suit the Turkish man.”

She also said one needed willpower to stop smoking, adding that it was not something that could be encouraged with pictures.

Halid S. Şimşek, scriptwriter for films and TV shows, said there were many more dangerous issues to worry about, including genetically modified organisms, exhaust from vehicles and industrial waste harmful to human health.

Moreover, he said it was illogical to print such dire warnings on a legally sold product.

Noting that he found the debate on the couple amusing, he said: “I believe not only the Health Ministry but the government itself should spend its energy on a realistic and total environmental health policy rather than wasting it on a secondary matter like smoking.”

Elif Erkaya, an advertiser, said the warning pictures and texts encouraged her to smoke more and argued that they had the same effect on others as well.

“People consume cigarettes being aware of the harm. Everybody knows the risks,” she said, adding that it was pointless to constantly reiterate the fact.

İsmail Sancak, a documentary filmmaker, said he did not believe either the pictures or the smoking ban were deterrents against smokers.

“However, I think [the ban] may do some good in [preventing] the next generation from starting,” he said.

Sancak said the furor over the picture was a “wink” from the ruling administration to its conservative voter base.

“Contrary to popular belief, the government is aware that arguments born of such minute details return to them as votes, so [it] makes a show of these issues when it has the opportunity.”

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