Turkey is about to put the kibosh on smoking, joining the ranks of Ireland, Belgium and Spain with a countrywide ban on lighting up in enclosed public spaces. But can what some call a Western-influenced health trend actually stub out an activity so intrinsic to Turkish daily life?
The ban could hurt thousands of Turkish teahouses that dot the streets of Istanbul, according to The Atlantic. The men-only "nargiles" are more like community centers where people talk politics, play backgammon or relax with a water-pipe or cigarette. The Atlantic says that hundreds of nargiles have closed their doors in the midst of a hurting economy. Starting in July, teahouses would face a 5,000 lira ($2,800) fine if customers smoke inside.
Nearly a third of Turks are smokers, according to the Turkish Journal of Cancer — a figure that surpasses U.S. smokers (23 percent) but pales in comparison to countries like Chile (37 percent) and Cuba (40 percent).
According to the National Coalition on Tobacco and Health, Turks are spending nearly $20 million a year on tobacco. The result: $30 billion in health care costs and 100,000 deaths a year from smoking-related illnesses
Some Turks are worried the new law will extinguish teahouses, which are viewed as emblematic of the country's traditional culture. Murat Ağaoğlu, head of the Turkish Association of Teahouses, finds it hard to imagine sitting in a teahouse and not being able to light up. He says the law should be modified to allow smoking in designated areas. "Many of our members worry about the future of their business," says Ağaoğlu. "How are they supposed to stop people from smoking?"
Faruk Taş, an Istanbul teahouse owner, echoes this argument. “Where are these people going to smoke?” he asks. “I can understand banning cigarettes, but this is a water-pipe garden. This is in our culture.”