Connect to share and comment

They'll huff and puff, but not for long

Turkey, which has one of the highest smoking rates in the world, faces a ban beginning July 19.

ANKARA, Turkey — Like many Turkish men, Mevlut Ozhan spends a good deal of time at his local pub, puffing on Marlboros and swigging frothy beer from a thick glass. For the last 20 years, the civil servant has come to the Isik Piknik pub in Ankara's bustling Kizilay neighborhood every day after work to watch TV and socialize in the narrow, smoke-filled room.

Starting this summer, he may have to find a new routine.

On July 19, it will become illegal to light up in bars, restaurants and cafes here. For the country that inspired the phrase "to smoke like a Turk," it's a controversial step. The smoking ban is being praised by health advocates, but is bitterly opposed by many business owners and smokers, some of whom see the move as a government attempt to impose religious moral values on the entire population.

"The government is Islamic, and they want to shut down places like this," Ozhan said as he sat with two friends at Isik Piknik on a recent weekday evening. "I don't like it all, and heavy smokers like me won't like it either."

His friend, folk singer Ahmet Silvanli, disagreed, saying the legislation is about health, not religion. Grabbing Ozhan’s cigarettes, he pointed to the warning label on the box. “It’s bad for your health,” he said as curls of smoke wafted through the hazy air. “I quit smoking 27 years ago, and the smoke in here bothers me. It causes cancer.”

But Ozhan said it's unlikely he'll continue to come to the pub if he’s not allowed to smoke, and that has the owner, Ali Uluisik, worried.

"Turkey is not ready for this kind of law," Uluisik said as he sipped a glass of raki. "I think it's OK to ban smoking in government buildings, but they shouldn't prohibit it in places like this."

Uluisik said alcohol and cigarettes go hand in hand for many Turks. If they can't enjoy both together in a pub or cafe, he said, "it will push them to dark corners — they'll drink outside in parks or cars. It will be worse than if they were inside."

A couple of blocks over, Gul Cavus, owner of the trendy Cafe Cocktail Patisserie, had similar concerns. "I don't know what I'm going to do," she said. "Already we're losing business because of the economic crisis."

But, Cavus added, she’s not sure the law will actually be enforced come July 19. "It's Turkey," she said, smiling. "We like to go against the rules."