Editor’s Note: The link between poverty and use of contraband tobacco has been documented in the literature. See Weaponizing Poverty, Appendix 2.
TRANSLATOR: Sibel Utku Bila
Following the introduction of a strict smoking ban in Turkey in 2008, the great Turkish folk singer Neset Ertas became the first person to publicly challenge then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over his tough attitude toward smokers. In a television program in 2009, the late Ertas interrupted Erdogan as he spoke on the issue and said, “Those miserable poor people are already beat. Electricity bills unpaid, water bills unpaid, not even bread and olives to eat. The cigarette is the only thing they have left. Don’t meddle with the people’s cigarettes.”
From 2008 to 2011, tobacco consumption in Turkey fell to less than 100 billion cigarettes per year. In 2015, the figure stood at 125 billion, including contraband cigarettes and loose tobacco, according to Elif Dagli from the Turkish Thorax Society’s Tobacco Control Working Group. The smoking rate rose from 39% to 42% among men, and from 12% to 13% among women. The real alarm, however, concerns the young. Compared to the 2003-2012 period, the consumption of cigarettes and other tobacco products in the 13-15 age group increased by 51% and 88%, respectively, Dagli said.