Smoking-related deaths hit 100,000 per year in Turkey despite cigarette bans
Meltem Özgenç – ANKARAAlmost 100,000 people die earlier than expected in Turkey each year due to smoking-related illnesses, a study by Ankara-based Hacettepe University has revealed, calling into question the efficacy of the country’s measures against cigarette sales and public smoking.
A smoking ban took full effect in 2009 in Turkey and outlawed smoking in all enclosed public places, including bars, cafes, restaurants, transportation and outside stadiums – amid protests from café owners. The ban included premises that serve nargile, or hookah, but excluded private residences.
Despite the extensive ban, around 100,000 people lose their lives due to diseases triggered by smoking in Turkey, while the figure stands at 6 million worldwide.
The study by Hacettepe revealed that some 2.57 million Turkish youth, who are currently under the age of 15, will die earlier than life expectancy figures project due to their smoking habits.
The research was conducted with a sample of 3,241 people, with participants providing information both on their own smoking habits, or lack thereof, and their observations regarding the proper application of cigarette bans.
One in five Turkish youth between the ages of 15 and 24 use tobacco products, the study said.
Meanwhile, a striking 42.6 percent of smokers between 18 and 34 years of age said they started smoking cigarettes when they were between 15 and 17 years old. Some 19.5 percent said they started smoking after their 18th birthday, while some 16 percent said they were already smoking before they reached 15.
The early start to smoking is not unique to Turkey, as the study underlines that a quarter of adolescents between 13 and 15 years of age have tried a tobacco product at least once before the age of 10.
Some findings of the study highlighted problems with the proper application of smoking bans in Turkey, as a majority of participants said they witnessed violations of the law.
Accordingly, 57 percent said they witnessed cigarettes being sold to under-aged persons over the past six months. When asked whether they intervened to warn the store, around 64 percent said they did not.
Similarly, a majority of the participants believe young people still have easy access to cigarettes, despite widening restrictions on tobacco products.
Ministry to introduce new plan against smoking
Turkey’s Health Ministry is set to introduce a new plan to combat widespread smoking habits by increasing restrictions on tobacco companies and launching campaigns to raise awareness of the negative effects of smoking, sources from the ministry have said.
The ministry is aware of the violations of the smoking ban, especially in cafes and restaurants, and is working toward developing a new working plan for its inspectors to increase efficiency, sources suggest.
According to the new arrangements, inspectors will be awarded with bonuses in proportion with the number of times they fine a violation.
The prohibitions, however, will also be coupled with an awareness campaign whereby the ministry will prepare advertisements and open stands in public areas to provide information on the negative impacts of smoking.
However, reports also suggest that an expected move by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to reduce smoking in outdoor public spaces and to introduce mono-type white cigarette packages is on shaky ground amid increasing pressure from tobacco companies.
The 69-article draft bill is set to be reduced to 13 articles at most, sources said, excluding restrictions on cigarettes.
Plans for new smoking regulations were announced by then-Health Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu on April 19, when he said the ministry planned to prohibit all cigarette sales on university campuses and further reduce the number of outdoor public spaces that smokers can use.