ANKARA, Turkey - Patrons of a usually smoke-filled hookah bar stepped outside to light up Sunday as Turkey extended a ban on indoor public smoking to bars, restaurants and coffeehouses.
The ban in this nation of smokers came into effect at midnight Saturday despite protests from bar and coffeehouse owners who fear it will ruin businesses that have already been hit by the economic crisis.
"The country woke up this morning having carried out a cigarette revolution," an editorial in the newspaper Radikal read.
"Smokeless life has begun," was the headline on the Milliyet paper.
In Ankara's Sakarya street - famed for its fast food outlets, bars and beer halls - owners staged a brief protest saying many of the businesses there risked bankruptcy.
"We are good for the summer, as we can go outside, sit outside. But in winter it will be a problem," said Fatih Toprakkale, owner of Calcene hookah bar. "I am afraid that we may eventually have to close, which will be a shame as we employ about 15 people."
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-oriented government widened a ban that already covered offices, public transport and shopping malls to now include bars and restaurants, intent on reducing smoking rates and the effects of secondhand smoke. The government says the previous prohibitions on indoor smoking have already cut smoking rates by seven per cent.
Erdogan, a pious Muslim, doesn't smoke and stops people from smoking near him, confiscating cigarette packs and making people promise to quit, an aide said. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules that prohibit state employees to speak to reporters without prior permission.
The smoking ban brings Turkey in line with practices in the European Union, which it hopes to join.
But avid smokers say the Islamic-rooted government is trying to indirectly punish establishments that serve alcohol by banning smoking.
"We are working to protect our future, to save our youth," Health Minister Recep Akdag said.
Under the new legislation, patrons violating the ban will be fined 69 Turkish Lira ($45), while owners who do not enforce the ban could be fined between 560 and 5,600 Turkish Lira ($366-$3,660). Littering with cigarette butts carries a 25 Turkish Lira ($16) fine.
On Sunday, members of a 4,500-person team established to enforce the new ban began carrying out surprise checks on bars and restaurants in Ankara and Istanbul, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
An association of coffeehouse owners said it would take legal action to try and have the ban overturned, saying it would take 70,000 establishments to the brink of ruin.
"Ninety-five per cent of the people who frequent coffeehouses are smokers. The ban will force the establishments to close down one by one since smokers will stop coming," said Huseyin Menekse, who heads the association.
"To smoke like a Turk" is an expression used in many European countries to describe heavy smokers and the government says more than 100,000 people die annually in Turkey from smoking-related illnesses.
At EskiYeni (OldNew) Bar on Sakarya, customers feted the "The Last Night of Smoking" Saturday night, dancing to the rhythm of cigarette-themed songs, including: "If only I could wrap you in my cigarette smoke and keep you forever."
Yesilay, an organization devoted to reducing alcohol and tobacco consumption, says around 40 per cent of Turks over the age of 15 are smokers, consuming around 17 million packs a day.
Associated Press Writer Gulden Alp contributed to this report.