Turkey, Europe declare 'end game' for tobacco users


European Union and Turkish tobacco experts set the rules aimed at ending the use of tobacco in Europe.

By Zeynep Cermen for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 04/04/14


Coffee shop owners stage a 2009 protest against the government's ban of indoor smoking. Experts say the adoption of European directives will help reduce smoking and its related health risks. [AFP]

As the European Parliament recently enacted a new set of directives in the fight against tobacco use, experts, parliamentarians, and scientists gathered last week in Istanbul to express their determination to protect the health of European citizens.

Turkey has had success in reducing the number of smokers, but participants in the sixth European Conference on Tobacco or Health Summit (ECToH) agreed that a broad-based approach is necessary to continue that trend.

The event brought 450 prominent tobacco and health experts to Istanbul to discuss a main theme dubbed "the end game." Participants discussed the new EU tobacco directives in detail and debated further preventive measures to stop smoking across the continent.

The new EU directives, which govern the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and related products, foresee a high level of health protection for European citizens.

The main focus is to make it harder for tobacco companies to market their products to young people. The new measures also include bigger and more prominent graphic health warnings, which are proven to be effective in deterring non-smokers from picking up their first pack of cigarettes.

The law will also ban gimmick products, like slim "lipstick" packs and flavourings, which are attractive to young people.

Linda McAvan, the European Parliament's rapporteur on the tobacco products directive, said warning signs will be placed at the top of tobacco packages.

"The tobacco industry was insisting to have the warning picture at the bottom since it would be easy to hide them on the shelves," she said.

Tezer Kutluk, chair of the ECToH executive committee and president of the NGO National Coalition on Tobacco or Health, said each year 7.6 million people die from cancer worldwide. About 14 million people diagnosed each year with cancer, and 1.8 million of those people have lung cancer. In Europe alone each year 400,000 people die from cancer.

According to data released in 2012, cancer cases in Turkey reached 1.2 million, with more than 100,000 deaths. Nearly 50,000 people had lung cancer, and more than 18,000 died of the disease.

Experts at the conference said that if the number of smokers isn't reduced soon, there could be 1 billion cancer deaths during the 21st century.

"The fight against cancer is not something that could be achieved in the hospitals," Kutluk told SETimes, adding that it should start on the streets.

"There is no individual, no government, no group to achieve a success in fighting against the use of tobacco on their own. We need to co-operate and unify our power," Kutluk said. "That's why we give importance to the co-operation among countries."

Efza Evrengil, general director of the National Committee of Tobacco and Health, said European countries have prominent experts and spend a considerable amount of money fighting against the use of tobacco.

"However Europe is a continent full of inconsistencies and has difficulties in overcoming some of the issues like pulling down the number of smokers," she told SETimes.

While insisting that the EU could co-operate with Turkey in that context, Evrengil also said Ankara has adopted more advanced regulations than those in Europe -- steps which were supported by the World Health Organisation.

Turkey's first anti-tobacco law became effective in 1996. New legislation was brought in 2008 with a major tobacco ban, and the legislation was expanded to a higher standard in 2009.

Amendments made last year to the Law on Prevention and Control of Hazards of Tobacco Products included new regulations on manufacture type, labelling and surveillance for the protection from the damages of tobacco products.

Smoking is banned in all indoor workplaces and public buildings in Turkey, and the country has a near comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Smoked tobacco products must have a composite warning, which includes both full-color pictorial warnings and texts, occupying no less than 65 percent of the package's surface area.

According to an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report, the number of smokers in Turkey declined from 28 million to 18 million between 2000 and 2010.

Turkish experts who spoke at last week's event said their task is to change the well-known saying "Smoking like a Turk," into a new slogan: "Quit smoking like a Turk."

In 2013 Turkey was among the top five on the European Tobacco Control Scale. Luk Joossens, a tobacco control expert at the Association of European Cancer Leagues, told reporters that the scale ranks countries according to criteria including tobacco prices, the use of tobacco products indoors, the advertisement of tobacco products and the budgets spent to ban smoking.

"As long as the prices are high in a specific country, that country has been considered to be successful in controlling the use of tobacco products," he said.

The price of cigarettes in Turkey became more expensive in January, ranging from $3.60 to $4.60 per pack. Similar packs of cigarettes cost between $7 and $10 in Europe.

According to research conducted among 34 European countries, England, Ireland and Iceland were the three most successful countries in controlling the use of tobacco. Austria, Germany and Switzerland are the worst European countries in implementing tobacco control measures.

During the conference, participants expressed their expectations that with the adoption of EU regulations and directives the country will make progress toward further reductions in tobacco use.

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"Turkey is such a large country and has such a big capacity presenting a good model for the world. It is very amazing to witness Turkey's success story in controlling tobacco use," Cynthia Collard, executive director of the NGO Physicians For a Smoke-Free Canada, told SETimes.

She said much has changed in Turkey since the 1990s, when tobacco use was far more common.

"People were smoking everywhere," Collard said. "Everywhere was full of tobacco products' advertisements. Now it's a completely different atmosphere. The community has changed tremendously."

What steps can be taken to further reduce smoking? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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