Smoking ban could be next victim of crisis .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none; color:#000000;} .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink:hover { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; color:#990000;} ISTANBUL - As the date the smoking ban comes into effect in restaurants and cafes draws nearer, the owners of such establishments are becoming increasingly worried about the effect the ban will have on an industry already suffering from the financial crisis.

However, they are not the only ones worried. Anti-smoking groups have expressed concern that most establishments will try to disregard or circumvent the ban, which will come into effect July 19. The ban is already in effect in shopping malls, but infractions are by no means infrequent.

Elif Dağlı head of the National Committee on Smoking and Health, or SSUK, is the go-to person for all things anti-smoking. Perhaps the most well-known name in the battle against tobacco companies in Turkey, she vows to "fight to the end to make sure that the ban is respected."

Bringing attention to what tobacco companies are doing to circumvent the ban is part of the fight. Recently, in a talk with Hürriyet columnist Gila Benmayor, she alleged that tobacco companies have been talking to the Association of Turkish Teahouses, or TKBF. Representing a unique traditional culture in Turkey, teahouses are a part of daily life. While teahouses today are haunts for mostly retired and jobless people, they used to be locations for people to read books and discuss politics.

Dağlı claimed the tobacco companies have been telling them that the ban will cause a great financial loss for them, especially in pre-election season when politicians mingle with local men at these teahouses for their election campaign. ÊHence, according to the claim of Dr. Dağlı, the ban’s entry into force was extended to the aftermath of local elections following the pressure from the TKBF on the government.

Major tobacco companies operating in Turkey deny the allegation, and claim that since the anti-smoking bill has become law, they have done no lobbying, overtly or behind the scenes, to extend the adjustment period for the ban, or to modify the law. "It is unthinkable for us to react to the ban in such an unethical way. Our duty is to follow the law," Duygu Kiraz from corporate communications department of the British American Tobacco, or BAT, said.

Philip Morris International, the largest cigarette manufacturer in Turkey, also reacted to the allegation. "We have had no role in the mounting opposition to the smoking ban in restaurants and cafes, but we find the grievances and concerns of their owners, who have reacted spontaneously to protect their business, understandable," Elvan Özkaya from the company’s communication department told Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

And the owners really do worry. The head of the Association or TKBF, Murat Ağaoğlu, argued that the law should be modified in a way that will allow smoking in designated areas in teahouses. "Many of our members worry about the future of their business," said Ağaoğlu. "How are they supposed to stop people from smoking? And if somebody does smoke, the owner is supposed to pay 5,000 (Turkish lira) fine." He also added that he had no knowledge of a talk between his organization and tobacco companies about the smoking ban. On the other hand, Ramazan Bingöl, the president of The Restaurants Association, or TURES, expressed his unconditional support for the ban. "Sure, some of our members are worried about what the ban might do to their business, but we all recognize that indoor smoking is a serious health hazard," he said.