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January 01, 2011, Saturday

Turkey: model country for smoking ban

My father used to smoke 10 cigarettes a day ever since he was young. He quit smoking some 10 years before he died. He abandoned cigarettes, but they did not abandon him.

In 1997, we learned that he had developed palate cancer stemming from smoking. After three years of treatment and operations, we lost him in 2000. In such a tragic way had I come to witness the damage caused by smoking, which may turn out to be a wall that can separate you from your loved ones.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Turkey Office and the National Cigarette and Health Committee (SSUK) announced the release of their “2010 Report on the Economics of Tobacco and Tobacco Taxation” in Ankara on Dec. 23, 2010. The report was promoted by WHO chief economist and General Directorate for Combating Tobacco economy coordinator Ayda Asun and SSUK President Elif Dağlı. These two enlightened Turkish women who tireless and bravely fight to make Turkey smoke-free deserve to be congratulated. Of course, we should also acknowledge that there is strong political support for the smoking ban in Turkey and that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in particular never compromised in this respect.

Turkey currently ranks fifth around the world and third among European countries in terms of full compliance with the smoking ban. Sales of cigarettes to people under 18, all sorts of advertising and promotion of tobacco products, and the use of automatic cigarette selling machines are banned. It is compulsory under the law to place the notice “Smoking is harmful to health” on cigarette packages. Also, TV channels are required to air educational programs about quitting smoking for at least 30 minutes per month. Smoking is prohibited on public transportation vehicles as well as in public indoor areas, including in the entertainment sector.

As Prime Minister Erdoğan noted, a physician was able to prescribe cigarettes to sick soldiers under a law on diets, dated 1934. The law in question was repealed in November 2006. Turkey has made great progress since the days when such a law was in force. However, despite strict measures implemented during the last 10 years, there are still problems that must be solved.

Indeed, Turkey is among the top 10 countries that consume the greatest amounts of tobacco products around the world. In Turkey, annual per capita spending on tobacco products is $280 while the annual per capita health expenditure is $580. In other words, total annual spending on smoking is $20 billion. Every year, 115,000 people die due to an illness stemming from tobacco consumption. There are 16 million adult smokers -- 12 million men and 4 million women.

About half of adult men (43.8 percent) and one out of every nine women and 8.4 percent of minors  aged 13 to 15 consume tobacco products. Turkish kids are seen by cigarette monopolies as “future smokers.” A total of 30.5 million adults (59.7 percent) live in “smoking” households. About 20 million of these adults are non-smokers. More 10 million people live in houses with at least one regular smoker. Moreover, smoking hookah (2.3 percent) is a rising trend among young people. Smoking hookah is more common among people aged 15 to 24 (8.1 percent) and in urban areas (4.9 percent).

Although cigarette advertisement and promotion has been prohibited since 1996, 13.3 percent of adults in Turkey note that they have seen cigarette marketing messages (advertisements, promotions or sponsorships) in the last 30 days.

In order to lower cigarette smoking in Turkey, taxes applied on tobacco products should be increased, in addition to bans and campaigns to raise awareness. While price increases on cigarettes may result in increased cigarette smuggling, we must acknowledge that this rapidly lowers cigarette consumption. We must create a smoke-free Turkey for a more modern, healthier and more beautiful Turkey and in order to not lose our relatives.

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