No cold Turkey: Government offers free medicine to quit smoking

No cold Turkey: Government offers free medicine to quit smoking фото

Looking to expand its smoke-free spaces, Turkey has now turned to medical treatment for die-hard smokers. An executive decision by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan removed the social security requirement for those seeking treatment.

The decision, published in the Official Gazette yesterday, will supply free medicine to smokers to help them kick the habit. The Health Ministry will provide medicines described as "nicotine replacement patent medicine," Bupropion HCI and Varenicline to hospitals and clinics tasked with helping smokers. Only 300,000 medicines will be distributed to these places for now, the decision said.

Smoking has been one of the habits most associated with Turks for decades, even creating the expression: "To smoke like a Turk." In a multistage action plan against smoking, Turkey first banned smoking in all indoor spaces, including restaurants, bars, cafes and similar establishments in 2009. A year later, the ban was extended to smoking in various sites such as stadiums, mosque courtyards and hospitals.

Then the prime minister, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a staunch teetotaler, is largely credited for the effective implementation of the ban that significantly limited space for smokers. Apart from the ban, the country has imposed higher taxes on cigarettes and provided a small amount of free medicine and treatment for smokers earlier.

Figures indicate that after the smoking ban in restaurants, bars, cafes, stadiums, hospitals and similar establishments, the prevalence of smokers decreased. Increased taxes on cigarettes and free medical treatment for smokers aided a decline in the habit. Still, authorities are determined to stamp out smoking, which still prevails among the young and kills more than 100,000 people every year due to diseases linked to smoking. The smoking rate was 31.6 percent in 2016, the latest available data, a decline from 32.5 percent in 2014.

Recently, the country adopted a plain packaging law that requires tobacco companies to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products in packaging without logos and without the prominent display of brands.

Turkey is planning to implement more measures against smoking in the coming years. Last summer, the government introduced the 2018-2023 action plan for tobacco control that includes shorter shifts for nonsmoking employees at workplaces to raising the minimum age for eligibility to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Companies with nonsmoking employees will be offered tax reductions and will be encouraged to hire nonsmoking personnel. The government is also considering increasing child and family benefits for nonsmokers. The action plan also includes "quit and win" campaigns to award people who quit smoking.

Turkey will also turn to celebrities, from actors and actresses to popular social media figures, to spread the anti-smoking campaign. Messages to deter smoking will be placed on website ads and ads before and during videos on video-sharing websites. Millions of people will also be texted about the dangers of smoking and passive smoking