Turkey went smoke-free Sunday joining most European Union states as the government introduced a ban in bars, cafes and restaurants in hopes of breaking the national addiction to nicotine despite the protests of business owners.
Yet Turkey, an aspirant EU member and the world's 10th country in tobacco consumption, said health reasons propelled the ban which was strongly by tobacco hater Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and came into effect at midnight as businesses removed ashtrays forcing smokers to go out for a smoke.
Local newspapers carried triumphant headlines depicting the ban as a revolution with the liberal Radikal daily running the headline "The saying 'smoke like a Turk' is now a thing of the past," and the popular Aksam daily's "The End."
After a first warning to customers who w ant to light up, owners of bars and restaurants are supposed to refuse serving smokers or call the police if customers insist on smoking on premises.
The ban imposes a fine of 69 liras ($ 45) for the smoker, and a heavier one of 560 liras (367) on the business for a first time offence and up to 5,600 liras ($3,670) for repeat offences.
Today's ban comes as an extension to a successful May 2008 ban on smoking in workplaces and indoor public spaces that saw a reduction in tobacco consumption by 20 percent and in smokers by seven percent according to Health Minister Recep Akdag.
Almost one in three adults smoke in Turkey with almost half of Turkish men are regular smokers according to official statistics while the World Health Organization (WHO) reported an annual death rate of a 100,000 due to smoking-related illnesses.
"People spend $15 to $20 billion to buy cigarettes each year," Tokat Erguder, who run's the WHO's tobacco-control program in Turkey said commenting on the financial burden of smoking on smokers and the economy. "In addition, the state has an annual expenditure of 3.4 to 4.5 billion dollars" to pay for the treatment of smoking-related illnesses, he added.
Recent surveys suggest that there is widespread public support of up to 95 percent for the smoking ban, but businesses have protested the ban will cause a drop in business amid what is already an economic crisis.
"Ninety-five percent of those who come to coffeehouses smoke," Huseyin Menekse, from the association's executive board, told the Anatolia news agency.
"The ban means that people will no longer come to these establishments, forcing them to close up one by one," he added.
Instead of a ban on indoor smoking, businesses propose a smoking section on their premises while an association of traditional coffeehouse owners said it was considering appealing the ban.
But some say the ban on smoking will unlikely apply uniformly throughout the country as coffee houses in rural villages and businesses on the outskirts of major cities will likely escape inspection.