July 19 of this year will be listed as one of the turning points in Turkey’s history since it will mark the beginning of “100 percent smoke-free air” in the country.
Despite some question marks raised by the public about the implementation of the ban as of July 19, the smoking ban, which went partially into effect on May 19, 2008 is due to be expanded to include restaurants, coffeehouses, cafeterias and bars, and as the day draws nearer, experts say the public will successfully adjust to the ban in a short time if everyone plays their part.
“Turkey will be the best example for the world with its two-year journey to enact and implement the law,” said Sylviane Ratte, a tobacco control expert at the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. She explained France’s 17-year journey to implement the law during a press conference held on Thursday by the National Cigarette and Health Committee (SSUK) in İstanbul. Stating that the first legislation was passed in 1991 in France to ban smoking in closed areas, she said Turkey has moved more quickly. “We lost large amounts of money, and the health of many people suffered in France up until the enforcement of the law; we are looking forward to its implementation in Turkey,” she said. Speaking at the same conference organized to inform the Turkish public of countries that have succeeded in having a smoke-free environment, Stephen Hamill, online communications and marketing manager of the World Lung Foundation, said he has traveled to Turkey five times since March 2008 and has seen many positive trends necessary for the smoking ban to succeed. “First of all there is a great political will to impose the ban. There is also a high level of public support from smokers and non-smokers, and there is the necessary mechanism in place for enforcing the law,” said Hamill.
‘There will certainly be opposition, yet majority favors the ban’
Sharing the French experience of the smoking ban, Ratte said France encountered many obstacles, mainly from the tobacco industry. “The tobacco industry tried to stop the process by arguing that this was legislation against the right to smoke, turning the ban into a human rights issue. This is a habit that kills and has nothing to do with human rights,” Ratte said. Noting that another argument of anti-ban groups was that all cafes, tea houses and restaurants will go out of business, she said they had conducted many surveys and found that the smoking ban has no effect on businesses. “We have seen that businesses negatively affected by the ban were those which did not prepare for it and tried to stop it,” she added. Hamill, who shared New York’s experiences of the ban, said there was similar opposition in New York, where a smoking ban in all enclosed areas has been in force since 2001. It had been a source of concern for some in New York whether the ban would negatively affect tourism, the key industry there; however, there had been an increase in the number of tourists New York receives, and some bars and restaurants even generated more money. “I believe that İstanbul and Turkey will be no different to other smoke-free cities — Paris, Dublin, Milan and New York. I congratulate you [Turkey] for taking such a big step,” he said.
Answering questions from the press about possible repercussions of the ban in Turkey, SSUK Chairwoman Elif Dağlı said it should not be forgotten that while Turkey generates $20 billion a year from tourism, it spends $20 billion a year on smoking. “If we can manage to decrease cigarette consumption by 30 percent, we will save $7 billion in tourism revenue. So it is groundless to argue that the smoking ban will negatively affect Turkey’s tourism potential. Furthermore, since the smoking ban has expanded in the world, the smoking rate is lower than Turkey in many countries from where tourists come,” she added.
‘The ban will be violated’ rumors
Both Ratte and Hamill said that one of the toughest obstacles they faced was countering the rumors that make people believe the law will be violated.
Hamill said that some claimed it was impossible to enforce the ban with Americans who love to smoke since “Marlboro man would never go out to smoke.” “However, all this opposition turned out to be wrong in the end, and New York is 100 percent smoke free just like Italy and Ireland. There is a health rationale behind this ban, and everybody understands this,” he said. Ratte also said that in France some people thought that to enforce the law a policeman would have to stand behind everyone since the French are law breakers and would not obey it. “Yet, everybody obeyed the law because it makes sense. The government stood firmly behind the law. There was only one café in France that opposed the ban and broke it, and then it was closed,” she added.
Dağlı also said although there are nearly 22 million smokers in Turkey, there are also around 50 million non-smokers, 10 million of whom suffer from lung and cardiovascular disease. Noting that there is sufficient public support to enforce the law, she said if everyone plays their part in adjusting to the law, Turkey will implement it successfully.