, ISTANBUL, July 17 – Turkey will on Sunday introduce a tight ban on smoking in cafes, restaurants and bars, wielding fines for offenders, in a bid to break a national habit blamed for tens of thousands of deaths each year.
The ban is an extension of existing legislation introduced by the Islamist-rooted government, which prohibited smoking in workplaces and public spaces in May last year while giving cafes and restaurants 18 months to adjust.
Now that the transition period expires on July 19, the owners of these establishments have to clear up ashtrays, put up signs against smoking and refuse to serve clients who insist on lighting up.
Although the legislation allows smoking in the courtyards of these premises, the site in question should not be covered with even a sunshade or awning in order to qualify as an open space.
Non-compliance with the ban will result in a fine of 69 liras (45 dollars, 32 euros) for smokers while the establishment itself will have to pay 560 liras for a first-time offence and up to 5,600 liras for repeat offences.
"Our primary objective is to reduce the proportion of smokers to 20 percent of the adult population," said Toker Erguder, who runs the World Health Organization’s tobacco-control project in Turkey.
Official statistics say almost one in three adults smoke in Turkey — a rate that reaches 48 percent among men — putting the country in 10th place in tobacco consumption in the world.
Smoking-related illnesses are reponsible for nearly 100,000 deaths a year, according to the Turkish Temperance Society.
Owners of bars and cafes have long been appealing for a delay in the introduction of the ban, especially in the midst of an economic crisis, but the health ministry has refused to budge and drafted in some 5,000 inspectors to make sure it is implemented.
Recent surveys suggest the majority of the public is behind the ban, but there is hardly any enthusiasm at a traditional coffee house in Tomtom Kaptan in Istanbul where patrons play cards or dominos with cigarettes hanging from the corners of their mouths.
"It is just stupid to be told to stop smoking or step outside for a cigarette," complained tradesman Sedat Safak, although he grudgingly admitted that he would obey the ban "if I have no other choice".
The establishment’s owner, Sakir Aras, said he rejoiced in the ban as a non-smoker, but expressed worry that he will lose clients.
"People who smoke make my place dirty and get on my nerves," he confided, but added that he would never refuse serving a client or consider filing a complaint against offenders like the law says.
"People who come here are my friends," he said.
Also targeted by the ban are the water-pipe cafes which have sprung up in Tophane on the shore of the Bosphorus after the century-old tradition became fashionable again in recent years.
Mehmet Sirkeci, the owner of Cafe Parma, said he has put his hopes in herbal molasses to smoke with a water pipe before wintertime deals a heavy blow to his business.
"I tried a water pipe based on aromatic herbs. The taste is the same and there is no nicotine. We will try to survive on that," he said, but with no certainty that this mixture will escape the ban.
As a doctor who has witnessed cigarette consumption decrease more than two percent in the last two years, Erguder is optimistic that the ban will contribute to the changing mentality in Turkey.
"Five or ten years ago, people would offer cigarettes to guests. They no longer do that. People also tend not to smoke near children any more," he said. "We are on the eve of a great change."
Once the ban comes into effect, there remains but one option for unpenitent smokers, as summarised by Ender Erin, a doctor, as he dragged on a cigarette in a trendy bar in the nightlife district of Beyoglu.
"If we have to go out to smoke, we will go out and in winter we will all freeze but we will still smoke," he said.