Turkish Parliament Expands Smoking Ban to Bars and Restaurants

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Parliament approved a law Thursday extending a smoking ban in this tobacco-growing nation to all bars, restaurants and coffeehouses by mid-2009.

The new law — backed by the Islamic-rooted government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — will prohibit smoking in all enclosed public areas next year.

Turkey already bans smoking on buses, airplanes and large offices, and within four months, it will be prohibited on taxis, ferries, trains and some open-air locations such as stadiums and playgrounds.

The new law must now be approved by the president.

Erdogan's government originally proposed enforcing the smoking ban in cafes and restaurants this year, but postponed it until mid-2009 after complaints from businesses.

Similar smoking bans came into force this year in France and parts of Germany.

Enforcing smoking bans in Turkey has been tricky. Fines — up to $420 for smoking in places such as hospitals — are rarely imposed, and it is not unusual to see people lighting up next to no-smoking signs in public places.

Under the new law, owners of cafes, restaurants and bars would be fined up to $4,300 if they allow customers to light up.

Television stations would be barred from airing shows in which people can be seen smoking.

Erdogan's party said some 160,000 people die annually in Turkey from smoking-related ailments.

About 40 percent of Turks over the age of 15 are smokers, consuming around 17 million packs a day, according to Yesilay, an organization devoted to fighting alcohol, drug and tobacco abuse.

Turkey is among the world's main tobacco growers along with China, India, the United States and Brazil, and one of the top exporters. Several major cigarette producers blend Turkish tobacco in their products.