The new year will bring in an intensified fight against all types of addictions, Deputy Prime Minister Recep Akdağ said. The senior government official, who was the former health minister, said they drafted a five-year plan to help people with addictions, from smoking to technology, to be implemented in January.
The plan includes drug use analysis of 15 cities' sewers in addition to raising awareness for technology and internet addictions, which are especially common in youth and children.
"We have set up a board to fight addictions, to streamline efforts and better coordinate them. Technology addiction was added to the problems that we are most concerned about, namely addictions to smoking, alcohol and gambling. The misuse of technology leads to addiction," Akdağ said.
He said they are now pursuing an integrated approach to those addictions rather than a policy of handling each separately. The minister cited smoking and alcohol addictions as "gateways" to drug addiction.
"People become addicted by taking up cheaper and more accessible bad habits," he said.
Smoking is one of the habits most associated with Turks and even led to the emergence of the expression, "Smoke like a Turk." Today, the country, which has a high prevalence of smokers, marked the ninth year of its comprehensive smoking ban.
Figures show the ban, along with higher taxes and free treatment for smokers, has helped to 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 use, dropping from 31.2 percent to 27.1 percent in the four years prior to the report.
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 and incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a staunch teetotaler, is largely credited for the effective implementation of the ban that significantly limited space for smokers.
Akdağ said they would introduce new measures against smoking, the most significant being plain packaging and a ban on the open sale of cigarettes and tobacco products. Plain packaging has already been introduced in other countries with mixed success. The idea is to deter young smokers who are targeted by tobacco companies through shiny, attention-grabbing packaging.
Inspections related to the smoking ban will also be strengthened. Akdağ cited the blatant violations in some places, such as nightclubs, especially late at night, as the main motivation for the increased inspections.
Though smokers have considerably decreased, a relative rise in smoking was found, particularly among the youth and women.
"It dropped to 44 percent among men from 50 percent, whereas it rose to 18 percent from below 14 percent among women," Akdağ said, linking it to "a change in culture."
The government will also launch a new media campaign to raise awareness of addictions.
"Campaigns in the United States and Canada failed, and this was because they were unsuccessful in finding the right target groups and picked the wrong themes. We have worked with academics, advertising and public relations experts on a new campaign. The Green Crescent will also have a larger role in the campaign," the minister said, referring to country's renowned teetotaler society.
Authorities will also train more people for warning others against addictions. The training will mainly focus on families and school counselors.
One of the most interesting aspects of the new plan to fight drug addiction is the sewer analysis. After a pilot project in Istanbul and the southern city of Adana, the analysis will be expanded to 15 cities.
"Thus, we will be able to determine what drugs are consumed the most in each city and will focus inspections in those places," he said.
The government will also tap into the potential of nonprofit organizations.
"They will be the flagships in the fight against addictions. We are working with them and are particularly interested in the contributions of women's nonprofit organizations," he added.
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