Youth smoking on rise as authorities mull measures

DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL
Published

Health Minister Recep Akdağ has expressed concerns over the rising smoking rate among young people in Turkey, saying the ministry will roll out a new anti-smoking campaign to prevent a further rise.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Akdağ said although Turkey has set an example in the international community with its "smoke-free airspace" campaign to stomp out the high rate of smoking, the rate among young people has "unfortunately" been on the rise in the past three years. "We are worried but not without hope. I think it is time to start a new campaign," the minister said.

Smoking is one of the habits most associated with Turks and even created the expression: "To smoke like a Turk." Today, the country, which has a high prevalence of smokers, is marking the seventh year since the most comprehensive smoking ban came into force. Figures show the ban, along with escalated taxes and free treatment for smokers, helped decrease smoking in the country. A World Health Organization (WHO) report released in 2015 showed a 12 percent decline in tobacco sales and a decline in the prevalence of tobacco smoking from 31.2 percent to 27.1 percent in the four years prior to the report.

Akdağ says anti-smoking efforts should be intensified and the ministry will prepare a new awareness campaign and further measures to decrease the smoking rates.

One of the measures is plain packaging, a practice that has had mixed success in the countries it has been applied in. The thinking behind the idea is that young people are the main target for tobacco companies who attract customers with shiny packaging. Before Akdağ was appointed to the ministry in May, the government was planning to introduce plain packaging in Turkey but this plan was later scrapped. Akdağ said he is considering implementing the plain packaging despite "objections." "Countries implementing plain packaging benefited from it. You only have the name of the brand in small print and the rest of the package contains warnings. So, the brands cannot turn the cigarettes into objects of attraction," Akdağ said.

The minister said another measure they were planning was a tighter ban on the display of cigarettes in grocery stores and other businesses. "Current laws prohibit cigarettes from being showcased in the windows of shops, but in grocery stores, they are prominently displayed behind the checkout counters (as there is no ban on the display of cigarettes inside the shops). We plan to prohibit this as well so cigarettes can only be stored in a place not visible to customers," he said.

The Health Ministry also plans to ban smoking in public parks, gardens and other public places, but specific areas will be designated for smoking.

In 2009, Turkey banned smoking in all indoor spaces, including restaurants, bars, cafes and similar establishments, and one year later, the ban was extended to smoking in various sites such as stadiums, mosque courtyards and hospitals. Then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a staunch teetotaler, is largely credited for the effective implementation of the ban that significantly limited space for smokers. Erdoğan did not abandon his anti-smoking policy after he was elected president, and even though he officially has no say in daily politics, he personally sees that people he comes across give up the habit, seizing their cigarette packs before having them "pledge" to quit smoking until their next meeting.

Turkey is among the top-seven countries that have passed 100 percent smoke-free laws, according to the WHO. Moreover, Turkey is one of the few countries combating smoking effectively with efforts to curb smoking by helping addicts. Smokers are provided with Bupropion HCI and Varenicline, two drugs used as smoking cessation aids and nicotine replacements.

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