Authorities seized 9 million packs of contraband cigarettes and 76,711 e-cigarettes in the first nine months of this year, Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan announced, hailing it as a major success against the flourishing sector. Pekcan told Anadolu Agency that for the first time, Turkey managed to bring contraband cigarette smuggling below 2%. Contraband and e-cigarettes were all but gone with constant crackdowns on smugglers, but those exploiting higher cigarette prices and more restrictions on smoking seek to bring in contraband cigarettes into the country to sell at lower prices. Cigarette smuggling in the country increased after Turkey stepped up anti-smoking measures, including a comprehensive indoors smoking ban introduced in 2009 and higher taxes for tobacco products. According to official figures, Turkey confiscated 15.7 million packages of contraband cigarettes in 2018. However, hitting 21% in 2014, the rate of illegal tobacco in the country recorded a gradual decline over the past few years and fell to 5.8% in 2018. Pekcan said Turkey invested TL 350 million in customs technology against smuggling, from X-ray scanners to technologies to identify license plates, vehicle surveillance systems and others accompanying more traditional methods like sniffer dogs and elite counter-narcotics police units. The minister said tobacco products make up a majority of seizures in terms of amount, at customs. “By the end of September, customs officials seized about 9 million packages of cigarettes not bearing the seal of TAPDK (the government’s tobacco and alcohol inspection board). We prevented tax losses of billions of Turkish liras,” she said. Pekcan said they were committed to stop cigarette smuggling and had also stepped up efforts against e-cigarettes. “There is a common public misconception that e-cigarettes are not as harmful as other cigarettes but they are and we keep seizing thousands of e-cigarettes almost every week in anti-smuggling operations” she said. Turkey recently announced plans for new regulations against smoking. A significant change will be for smoke-free areas and areas allocated to smokers in public venues like restaurants and cafes. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is credited with bringing the first comprehensive smoking ban to Turkey when his government imposed a landmark indoors ban for smokers in 2009. A staunch teetotaler, the president is known both for his repeated warnings to anyone smoking in his close circle, as well as a series of steps to curb nationwide smoking. Authorities have stepped up inspections against violations of the smoking ban in recent years. Some 1,500 teams inspected businesses and public buildings every day around the country against violations of the said ban. The Health Ministry also set up a hotline for citizens to report violations, while an app called Green Detector allows users to immediately notify authorities against violations. Since 2009, teams have carried out more than 22.8 million inspections. Figures indicate that after the smoking ban, the prevalence of smokers decreased. Increased taxes on cigarettes and free medical treatment for smokers also aided a decline in the habit. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said e-cigarettes will also be covered by new regulations. "It will be banned and will not be allowed into the country," Koca noted. Like elsewhere in the world, e-cigarettes gained popularity in Turkey as more smokers tend to take up this new habit, hoping it will help them quit cigarette smoking and stop the impact of secondhand smoking. Yet, experts warn that they are as harmful as cigarettes. In the United States, the e-cigarette industry faces scrutiny from federal and local governments over youth vaping with 14 deaths across the country linked to vaping. In California alone, state authorities say more than a hundred residents who vaped had been hospitalized for lung damage, media outlets reported.