Smoking Ban Takes Effect In Turkey

Turkey, a land where smoking is a national pastime, doused tradition Sunday and banned smoking in restaurants, bars, and cafes. Turkish newspaper columnist Asli Aydintasbas talks to NPR's Guy Raz about reaction to the ban.

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GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Saying that someone smokes like a Turk may not mean much after today. That's because it's now illegal to light up in Turkey's cafes, bars and restaurants.

The ban is the latest in that government's efforts to stub out indoor, public smoking - this is in a country where smoking is practically a national pastime.

According to the World Health Organization, about a third of Turks smoke, including half of Turkish men.

Well, joining us on the line from Ankara is Asli Aydintasbas. She's a columnist with the Turkish newspaper Aksam. Welcome.

Ms. ASLI AYDINTASBAS (Columnist, Aksam): Hi, Guy.

RAZ: So what's the point of a smoke-filled tea room without the smoke?

Ms. AYDINTASBAS: Well, we're going to have to see. This is the first ever that we're going to experience a smoke-free tea room. I think when I say first ever, I mean first ever since 17th century, when it was banned briefly under a certain sultan that no one remembers well. So we'll have to see.

RAZ: Now, did you go out to a bar or a restaurant last night to experience this?

Ms. AYDINTASBAS: I was actually at an outdoors wedding last night, and after the wedding was over, the bride and the groom wanted to continue celebrating. They wanted to go out to a club. Most people were coming out, going out to smoke, which is a first in Turkey. It's a very common sight when you go to London or New York, but it's the first time in Turkey that I've seen people going out to smoke.

There were some people who just ignored the ban, and security people kept warning them. I hope they were just being a little bit lenient because it was the first night.

RAZ: What's the fine for disobeying?

Ms. AYDINTASBAS: It's something like 69 Turkish liras, which is almost $50.

RAZ: Now, I understand that you are actually not a smoker, but your husband is. So do the both of you feel differently about this ban?

Ms. AYDINTASBAS: Oh very differently. In fact, we had a funny incident last night. Seeing that there were a couple of guys smoking in sort of a bit of a macho fashion, like we're not going to obey this law in this club, I actually approached a guard and said, why don't you warn these guys, and my husband was, like, I can't believe it. You're like a vigilante. You know, so he's feeling like, you know, Turkey was the last peaceful place. This is one of the bad things we're importing from the West, but he's going to have to go with it.

RAZ: How are other people that you know who smoke reacting?

Ms. AYDINTASBAS: People said it will never be enforced in Turkey. There's no way this ban could be enforced, and a bit of the macho talk about oh, I don't care. I'll pay and still smoke.

Some smokers see there a hidden, Islamic, conservative agenda behind this ban. I think that's a little farfetched, granted that the government here is made up of conservative and some Islamists. That said, we have the ban in pretty much most of Western Europe, so it's clearly a standard for a modern state.

RAZ: Ms. Aydintasbas, I covered Turkey off and on for quite a while, and I'm wondering if this ban sort of takes something away from the character of Turkish cafes and bars in Istanbul and Ankara. I mean, smoking seems like it's so central to Turkish culture.

Ms. AYDINTASBAS: It really is and especially in small restaurants, taverns - places where Turks really go and drink Turkish (unintelligible). There's two, three smokers pretty much at every table.

It will change the Turkish character, and I just can't imagine the entire restaurant going out and smoking in the dead of winter. So I don't know how people will work it out, but we'll have to see.

RAZ: Now that the government's passed a ban, are you going to pass a ban in your own house and forbid your husband from smoking inside?

Ms. AYDINTASBAS: Oh, that's a tough call. I think that's not as easy as the government ban.

RAZ: That's Asli Aydintasbas. She's a columnist with the Turkish newspaper Aksam.

Ms. Aydintasbas, thanks for joining us.

Ms. AYDINTASBAS: Thank you for having me.

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