ISTANBUL – Turkey is getting ready for a general smoking ban in public places, including restaurants, bars and tea houses, starting Sunday. According to a poll ninety percent of the population supports the ban, but in the hospitality sector there are complaints that jobs will be lost, as well as traditions.
Ismet Nebi Dökmecier points at a portrait of his grandfather, who opened the Ismet Baba restaurant 58 years ago. ‘Since then, people have eaten fish here, drunk raki and smoked’, says Ismet. ‘Of course smoking is unhealthy, but eighty percent of my customers smoke! The other twenty percent don’t, true, but I have two rooms, so why can’t I use one for smokers and one for non-smokers?’
But the smoking ban cannot be avoided. There are no exceptions, including for hookah cafés, popular among Turks and tourists alike. Ibrahim (24) works in such a café and is already looking for another job: ‘The boss said that of the 12 workers only 3 will keep their job. I will be fired too, but not just yet, because we have a big terrace and smoking will not be banned there, so in the summer we will still be busy.’ Ibrahim’s boss, Hamza Kütük: ‘Who will come to a smoking café if smoking is forbidden there? I hope I will make do on the income I earn in the summer. Will my café still exist one year from now? Definitely, definitely!’
From Sunday on, 1,571 teams will enforce the smoking ban. Anyone caught smoking where it’s not allowed will get a 69 lira fine (30 euros), and for managers who allow their customers to smoke the fine can go as high as 5,600 lira (2,600 euros) for repeat violations. Although costly for the thousands of small tea houses around Turkey, the smoking ban is expected to be hardest to enforce in tea houses in the country-side, where the majority of customers smoke. Staying home to smoke is not an option: according to tradition the day is spent playing backgammon, drinking tea and smoking in the teahouse, and home is the women’s domain. Besides, even in Turkey less people smoke at home.
Ahmet, who has put his chair on the pavement in front of an Istanbul tea house and is smoking a cigarette, says: ‘Smoke at home? No, my wife doesn’t allow that. In the summer the smoking ban is no problem, we can sit outside, but in winter? Smoking under an umbrella in the snow, that’s no good. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.’