May 19th is a big deal in Turkey commemorating the start of the War for Independence. I find that ironic, because today is another “May 19th” that is going to be remembered for a long time…this one for restricting a freedom that many Turks have enjoyed without restraint. That of lighting up a smoke whenever and wherever the mood hit.
Starting today public smoking is being frowned upon in this great nation of nicotine loving Turks. Already banned in airports and large offices today the ban sweeps into its purview the small shops, parks, entertainment venues and extends even to the ferries and taxis that troll throughout the metropolis. An estimated 15 million packs of cigarettes (300 million smokes) are inhaled each day in Turkey.
Being a non-smoker it took some time to get used to the second hand smoke I was inhaling when we first landed here a few years ago. Now when returning to Istanbul from abroad there is nothing that makes me feel more “at home” than the smell of cigarettes as soon as we step out of the airport.
I know…its bad for me, bad for you, bad for all of us. I get it. I am not advocating smoking. However, when I see things that have been culturally endeared to me pass away there is an element of grief I experience. I cannot count the times that a Fiat-wielding taxi driver has held out a pack of smokes to me as he weaved and dodged through Istanbul”s infamous traffic, before lighting up himself. The scent of tobacco has become synonymous with the Turkish hospitality that has courted and overwhelmed us during our time in Asia Minor.
No doubt we will all be much healthier and able to worry about whatever great health risk becomes popular in the future. For now though I am not too worried, once I see the ashtrays on the treadmills at the local sports salon go…I will know that the restrictions are here to stay.