A new law on plain packaging for tobacco products formally came into force yesterday, six years after the country launched an all-out war against smoking. Starting in 2019, cigarettes and other tobacco products must be sold in uniform packages with a prominent display of health warnings and only a smaller space for the name of the brand.
The logo of the tobacco company or the brand will also be absent on the new packages. The law stipulates the text of health warnings, already covering considerable space in packaging, to be increased to cover 85 percent of the package. The name of the brand will only be displayed on one face of the pack.
The law is one of the most comprehensive regulations after a landmark smoking ban in 2009 and along with plain packaging, imposes a ban on the use or promotion of tobacco products on TV, in TV series, films, music videos, films screened in cinemas and theater plays as well as on social media and other Internet venues.
The sale of tobacco products in facilities where health and education services are offered, such as universities, will also be banned.
Smoking has been one of the habits most associated with Turks for decades, even creating the expression: "To smoke like a Turk." In a multi-stage action plan against smoking, Turkey first banned smoking in all indoor spaces, including restaurants, bars, cafes and similar establishments. A 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. Apart from the ban, the country has imposed higher taxes on cigarettes and provided free medicine and treatment for smokers.
Figures indicate that after the smoking ban in restaurants, bars, cafes, stadiums, hospitals and similar establishments, the prevalence of smokers decreased. Increased taxes on cigarettes and free medical treatment for smokers aided a decline in the habit.
Still, authorities are determined to stamp out smoking, which still prevails among the young and kills more than 100,000 people every year due to diseases linked to smoking. The smoking rate was 31.6 percent in 2016, the latest available data, a decline from 32.5 percent in 2014.
Turkey plans more measures against smoking in the coming years. Last summer, the government introduced the 2018-2023 action plan for tobacco control that includes shorter shifts for non-smoking employees at workplaces to raising the minimum age for eligibility to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Companies with non-smoking employees will be offered tax reductions and will be encouraged to hire non-smoking personnel. The government also ponders increasing child and family benefits for non-smokers. The action plan also includes "quit and win" campaigns to award people who quit smoking.
Turkey will also turn to celebrities, from actors and actresses to popular social media figures to spread the anti-smoking campaign. Messages to deter smoking will be placed on website ads and ads before and during videos in video-sharing websites. Millions will also be texted about the dangers of smoking and passive smoking.