Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Smoke Like a Turk?

(updated below)

Last January, Turkey passed law that would prohibit smoking in public places, including restaurants, cafés, and even nargileh. That law went into effect this Sunday, leaving many Turks anguished with the fact that the long tradition of smoking indoors has been brought to an end. While the law was enacted for public health concerns, many Turks are framing the issue in terms of individual rights. This has manifested itself in numerous public attacks on the AKP government, the smoking ban joining other charges that the government is bent on pushing an Islamic value scheme. Hürriyet's Yusuf Kanlı exemplifies this opinion among those less than happy about the ban:
What is indeed the intention of the government of Sultan Recep the First? Is it....aimed at confining Turks to their homes? Are we leaving through a process of advancing red zones in the cities? Or, is it as Le Monde or some other Western media outlets implied in their reports, an effort by the neo-sultan in the footprints of Murat the Fourth aimed at avoiding Turks coming together and criticizing his all benevolent and all capable government?
According to Bianet, the Ministry of Health has set up a hotline by which citizens can report on smokers who violate the law. The law also includes a mesaure that allows police to assess a 25YTL fine on smokers who throw cigarette butts on the ground, as well as provisions to fine businesses who are found to be in violation and restrictions on advertising.

UPDATE 8/1 -- A university professor recently completed a study on smoking in Turkish coffeehouses. Among the findings, while only 30 percent of Turks smoke, 70 percent of coffeehouse goers smoke (and a lot). The study also notes that coffeehouses are important places for men and women to gather to talk. This findings gives reason to wonder if the smoking ban will have on Turkey's public sphere. Coffeehouse cultures have long been appreciated as important spaces for political discourse. Will the smoking ban end up squeezing valuable public space in Turkey?

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