"Smoke like a Turk?" No more

Wed Jul 15, 2009 8:56pm EDT
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By Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - 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.

One of the world's oldest prohibitions of smoking, Murad's failed and as tobacco's popularity grew in Turkey, the saying "smoke like a Turk" took root in languages across Europe.

In modern times, Erdogan is the driving force behind the next phase of a widely popular ban taking effect on July 19, which aims to curb the habit in a country where 22 million people, including around half the adult male population, smoke.

But at a time of economic crisis, the prohibition -- adding restaurants, cafes and bars to the places where smoking is not allowed -- is viewed by a minority as a potential assault on their culture.

Erdogan, who long since banned smoking in cabinet meetings, also faces opposition from owners of thousands of establishments across the Muslim, European Union-candidate country, who see the ban as a threat to their business.

Some in the bar industry point out the smoking ban coincides with the introduction of restrictions on alcohol advertising this month, but experts reject suggestions it is a stalking-horse for tighter controls on the sale of alcohol.

"Let's keep alcohol and cigarettes separate. They are different things," said Law Professor Hayrettin Okcesiz of Akdeniz University. "If there is a ban on alcohol everyone should have the right to protest, but we shouldn't see this is as step toward an alcohol ban."   Continued...

<p>A Turkish man smokes in a bar in Istanbul July 14, 2009. REUTERS/Murad Sezer</p>