Turkish cafe owners rally against smoking ban

ANKARA — About 1,000 coffee house owners demonstrated Tuesday against a drastic smoking ban introduced in Turkey last month, urging the government to relax restrictions to save struggling businesses.

The crowd gathered in a park outside the health ministry, brandishing banners that called for a revision of the ban and threatened to punish the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at the next elections.

Cigarettes are out, the light-bulb will also go out,” one banner read, referring to AKP’s symbol, while another said: “Don’t add a coffee house crisis to the economic crisis.”

The protestors were mostly owners of Turkey’s 150,000 coffee and tea houses, a traditional fixture of residential neighbourhoods and villages, where men go to chat and play backgammon.

They have been at the forefront of opposition against the ban, complaining that business has plummeted since the law took effect on July 19 amid a severe economic crisis already bruising the sector.

Shopkeeper associations say the number of clients has fallen by up to 20 percent, and more than 500 coffee houses have shut down in Istanbul alone.

Strongly supported by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a tobacco hater, the law banned smoking in cafes, bars and restaurants, including some covered outdoor spaces.

Professional groups demand the law be relaxed to allow for smoking compounds in their establishments.

In Turkey, the world’s 10th largest tobacco consumer, almost one in three adults smoke, with the rate reaching 48 percent among men, according to official statistics.

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