From: Reuters
Published January 3, 2008 01:39 PM

Smokers' haven Turkey bans cigarettes in bars

By Gareth Jones

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's parliament approved on Thursday a sweeping ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, but commentators say enforcing the new law could prove difficult in a nation long addicted to nicotine.

The ban will be implemented in full 18 months after President Abdullah Gul has signed it into law.

The move, revolutionary for Turkey, comes hard on the heels of similar bans this week by France and Germany. Many other members of the European Union, which Turkey hopes to join, have also outlawed smoking in enclosed public places.

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Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, known for his strong dislike of tobacco, had championed the ban and parliament, where his ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party has a big majority, endorsed the law by 240 votes for and just two against.

The ban will include cigars, pipes and the traditional water pipe, or nargile, a popular attraction for tourists visiting Istanbul and Turkey's coastal resorts as well as for locals.

Smokers in Ankara were defiant ahead of the vote.

"This ban is disgusting. It is against individual freedom," said Mustafa Puskullu, 29, a sales advisor, enjoying a cigarette during lunch at an Ankara shopping mall.

"I will certainly not comply with any ban," he added.

Turkey is both a major producer and consumer of tobacco.

In the country of 75 million people, some 25 million smoke, working through 115 billion cigarettes a year, statistics show. Nearly two-thirds of men smoke -- twice as many as in western Europe -- as well as 11 percent of children aged 7 to 11.

Clouds of smoke hang in the air of most teahouses and bars as customers chat over glasses of black tea or alcoholic beverages such as the aniseed-flavored raki.

BIG BUSINESS

Major global firms are active in the Turkish market, including Philip Morris -- which has a joint venture with Turkey's Sabanci Holding -- British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International.

The government is also pressing ahead with its sale of state tobacco firm Tekel Cigarette, with a January 25 deadline for bids. Tekel has a 40 percent share of the local market, with sales of $8 billion.

Health campaigners say one in five deaths in Turkey is caused by tobacco-related illnesses which cost the relatively poor country some $2.7 billion annually. Erdogan's government has hiked taxes on tobacco to discourage Turks from smoking.

As well as most enclosed public spaces, the ban will apply to some outdoor locations such as stadiums and the gardens of mosques and hospitals and to taxis and trains. Smoking is already banned on buses and planes.

The government resisted efforts by some lawmakers to water down the bill, for example quashing an attempt to allow bars and restaurants to retain restricted areas for smokers.

But enforcing the ban will not be easy.

"We are a society that can promulgate laws ranging from tax regulations to traffic rules, from smoking restrictions to bans on torture, but we can't implement them," said columnist Murat Yetkin in Thursday's edition of the liberal daily Radikal.

"The smoking ban must not remain only on paper," he said.

Those flouting the smoking ban will face a fine of 57 lira ($49). Owners of bars, cafes and restaurants where customers light up could be fined up to 5,000 lira.

Nuri Bayraktar, a 24-year-old bank employee, said: "I don't find this ban a good idea. People should be left in peace. But I will have to abide by it because I don't want to pay the fine."

(Additional reporting by Selcuk Gokoluk and Emma Ross-Thomas; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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