The Health Ministry has announced new restrictions on cigarette sales as Health Minister Recep Akdağ revealed a rise in the rate of smokers in a country hailed for its exemplary anti-tobacco campaigns.
Speaking at a parliamentary session where the budget for his ministry was being discussed yesterday, Akdağ said they plan to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes, a plan scrapped during the tenure of his predecessor and cigarette displays in stores will be covered to prevent attraction.
Akdağ said smoking among adults has decreased to 23.2 percent in recent years but it rose again to 27.3 percent and they needed "a serious program" to tackle the issue. "In 2017, we will introduce plain packaging where the brand of cigarettes will almost be invisible and sellers will be obliged to store the cigarettes in closed cases instead of transparent displays," Akdağ said.
Smoking is one of the habits most associated with Turks and even led to the emergence of 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.
Plain packaging is a practice that has had mixed success in the countries it has been implemented. The thinking behind the idea is that young people are the main target for tobacco companies who attract customers with shiny packaging.
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.