Skip to main content

Why Turkey's anti-tobacco efforts went up in smoke

Smoking and drug abuse are on the rise among Turks, and experts blame worsening poverty levels and faltering measures on the government’s part.
A Turkish woman smokes at an open air tea house in Istanbul July 14, 2009. Smokers in Turkey tempted to flout an imminent ban in cafes, restaurants and bars will be spared execution as allegedly meted out in 17th-Century Istanbul -- but their Prime Minister has likened cigarettes to terrorism. That's a measure of how strongly Tayyip Erdogan feels about tobacco. Sultan Murad IV is said to have roamed the streets ordering the execution of those who defied a smoking ban aimed at curbing coffee house sedition.
Read in 

Following the introduction of a strict smoking ban in Turkey in 2008, the great Turkish folk singer Neset Ertas became the first person to publicly challenge then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over his tough attitude toward smokers. In a television program in 2009, the late Ertas interrupted Erdogan as he spoke on the issue and said, “Those miserable poor people are already beat. Electricity bills unpaid, water bills unpaid, not even bread and olives to eat. The cigarette is the only thing they have left. Don’t meddle with the people’s cigarettes.”

The link Ertas drew between poverty and smoking seems to have been spot on. The ban, which covers workplaces, restaurants and cafes, among other public spaces, proved effective in discouraging smoking in its initial years, but today Turkey is back to ground zero. Drug abuse is also on the rise.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.