Smokers in Turkey to not receive free cancer medicine

Smokers in Turkey to not receive free cancer medicine

Meltem Özgenç – ANKARA
Smokers in Turkey to not receive free cancer medicine Turkey’s social security body will not fund cancer treatment medicines for patients diagnosed with lung cancer who have ever had a smoking habit, according to a new regulation that went into effect on Feb. 3.

The Social Security Institution’s (SGK) new regulation requires people with lung cancer to pay for their own treatment medicines if they have a smoking habit.

The regulation has drawn condemnation from legal bodies, health organizations and advocacy groups.

Ankara Bar Association head Hakan Canduran stated that they would take the regulation, which he said violates constitutionally and internationally-protected health rights, to court.

“The term ‘everyone’ is used in Article 56 of our constitution. This assures everyone the right to health. This term should be regarded by law in terms of non-discrimination and equality,” Canduran said. 

“Smoking cigarettes, which is a personal preference, is being punished by the state [with the regulation],” he added.

The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) said it could take the issue to the Constitutional Court through an individual appeal.

Devrim Güngör, an associate law professor at Ankara University, also criticized the change. 

“One-sided and arbitrary changes in the provisions of general health insurance are unlawful. A person cannot just be left to die based on their mistakes or personal preferences. Many diseases are caused by unhealthy lifestyles. For example, this regulation could lead to hospitals asking for patients to meet weight criteria in order to fund medicines for cardiovascular disease patients,” Güngör said. 

Turkish Employer Pharmacists Union (TEİS) head Nurten Saydan said the new regulation was “unacceptable.” 

“For example, for someone who is diagnosed with lung cancer on Feb. 3, their treatment will be funded only if they haven’t smoked before. This is unacceptable,” Saydan said.

“Several life-sustaining medicines that also cure other diseases are not included in the new SGK prospectus. The SGK funds these medicines only with the authorization of the Health Ministry. Until now, this system functioned successfully, but now the SGK is imposing tighter rules on the system by not accepting the ministry’s allowances,” she added, suggesting that the reason for the regulation change was the SGK trying to cut costs.

“This regulation, which threatens the health of patients, should be amended urgently by the SGK and the Health Ministry,” Saydan said.         

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is well-known for his anti-smoking stance. Commenting on the recent extension of smoking bans in public spaces, he told a group of around 250 former smokers that there could be “no freedom to commit suicide, no freedom to expose oneself to terminal diseases.” 

“There can be no such freedom as the freedom to smoke … The state must protect its citizens against tobacco, alcohol and drugs, just as it is obliged to protect them against crimes like theft and terrorism,” Erdoğan said.