Turkey switches to plain packaging to deter smokers

New packs will contain larger health warnings and no visible logo for brands. (AA Photo)

A regulation for plain packaging comes into force Thursday as Turkey seeks to reduce sales of cigarette and tobacco products and discourage smokers with less shiny packaging

Turkey will switch to plain packaging for cigarettes and tobacco products on Thursday.

The Agriculture and Forestry Ministry overseeing the implementation of the regulation announced that manufacturers will begin producing plain packs for cigarettes and similar products while sales of older, branded packages will end on Jan. 5, 2020.

The move is expected to serve as a detraction for would-be smokers, especially among the youth, and curb tobacco and cigarette sales. It is also the latest step in a massive government campaign, which started in 2009, to reduce the number of smokers in the country, once the subject of a notorious expression, "smoking like a Turk."

Plain packaging is currently in force in countries like France, Canada, the U.K. and Australia. Its impact is questionable but experts say it at least serves as a deterrent for impressionable young smokers attracted to shiny colors and splendid logos or brand names on cigarette and tobacco packaging.

The new regulation mandates cigarette manufacturers to use a single, standard pack without logos, graphics or similar signs promoting the product. Each pack will have a mandatory space taking up 85% of its size for health warnings with photos.

Fourteen new health warnings have also been introduced for plain packs. The hotline 171, which is for those seeking to quit smoking, will also be promoted on the packs. The front side of the cigarette packs will have a brief description of the type of its content. Around 50% of space on the left and right sides of the packs will carry warnings and information. Packs will also come without information about the rate of nicotine and carbon monoxide emission that is available in current packs. A warning about a ban on cigarette sales for those under the age of 18 was replaced with a warning that such sales carry a prison sentence.

Among health warnings that will be placed on each pack, photos will feature smoking's association with early death. One warning reads, "Smoking slows down blood circulation and causes sexual impotence." Another one warns about the risk of early birth for expectant mothers and death, disease and disability risk for their future children.

Smoking rates are on the decline across Turkey, yet the deadly addiction still takes a heavy toll. The country spends a whopping $25 billion annually on smoking, either in terms of the tobacco itself or treating the diseases it causes. According to Fight Against Smoking Association, the public spends $15 billion per year on cigarettes while the government spends $10 billion to treat smoking-related illnesses.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government has taken various steps to halt cigarette use in recent years. The country introduced a nationwide indoor smoking ban in 2009 at restaurants, bars and similar establishments and gradually extended its reach to other enclosed spaces over the years, in addition to a complete smoking ban on school grounds and the sale of tobacco products at educational institutions.

Authorities have stepped up inspections against violations of the smoking ban in recent years. Some 1,500 teams inspect businesses and public buildings around the country on a daily basis to check for violations of the ban.

The Health Ministry also set up a hotline for citizens to report violations, while an app called Green Detector allows users to immediately notify authorities of persons and venues failing to uphold the measures. Since 2009, teams have carried out more than 22.8 million inspections.

The Health Ministry also offers advice to those trying to quit, through a hotline set up in 2010. The hotline receives about 5,000 calls every day from smokers. A ministry website gives tips on how to quit smoking and allows users to calculate how much money they can save by not buying cigarettes. Figures indicate that since the smoking ban has come into force, the prevalence of smokers has decreased, though not as much as expected.

Increased taxes on cigarettes and free medical treatment for smokers seeking to quit have also aided the decline of smoking. Still, diseases related to smoking claimed the lives of more than 65,000 people last year, according to Tobacco Atlas, a civic society initiative researching the tobacco epidemic.

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