Turkey’s government is setting up a 4,500-strong team to help enforce an upcoming smoking ban in bars, restaurants and coffeehouses in the country of heavy smokers, a Health Ministry official said on Thursday.
On Sunday, a year-old ban on indoor public smoking will be widened to include bars, restaurants and even smoky, hazy village coffeehouses and hookah bars. The ban already covers offices, public transport and shopping malls.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government has dismissed the protests and calls for the ban to be postponed.
A Health Ministry official said the force would carry out surprise checks on bars, restaurants and coffeehouses where men traditionally pass time lighting up, drinking tea or coffee, and playing backgammon and card games.
He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules barring civil servants from speaking to journalists without prior authorization.
Patrons breaking the ban will be fined 69 Turkish lira (US$45), while owners who do not enforce the ban could be fined between 560 lira and 5,600 lira.
“To smoke like a Turk” is a common expression in many European countries to describe someone who smokes a lot.
Enforcing smoking bans has proven difficult in the country where around 40 percent of Turks over the age of 15 are smokers, consuming around 17 million packs a day.
Davut Kaya, the owner of a smoke-filled coffeehouse in Ankara, said he fears for his business.
“Ninety percent of my customers are smokers. They come here to get rid of their stress by smoking and playing cards. I cannot see them going outdoors to smoke every 10 minutes. They will stop coming here,” he said.