Smoking Like a Turk

Updated: Jan 20, 2019

Fall in Istanbul may not be so much different than what I experience in Albany every year. The days in Istanbul have been getting foggier and foggier as we move into the latter part of November. However, the fog that comes from the burning of cigarette butts, and the puffing from cigarette smoking is an all-year round phenomenon in Istanbul and Turkey as a whole. It is no wonder that the phrase, “smoking like a Turk” exists. Turkish society has a “smoke culture” that challenges many citizens and foreigners like me, who are currently residing in the country.

Cigarette smoking is very prevalent in Turkey. It is not uncommon to find people smoking in many public avenues. A normal table setting in a restaurant or café always includes an ashtray. In several occasions, I have stood behind or next to smokers (whom I have perceived to be indifferent) amid a crowd of people waiting to cross the road. I have observed parents smoke in front of their children with little or no expression of hesitation. The expression goes like this: “talking over a cup of coffee (or tea)”, but I find it fair enough to say that in Turkey, people sit and talk over a pack of cigarettes. Many of my peers have responded that they smoke “just to be social”, thus seeing young people having a smoke in groups. It is almost easy to assume that Turkey’s view on smoking is lenient. However, this is not the case.

The Turkish government has taken steps to address cigarette smoking in Turkey. Hürriyet Daily News reports: “Although Turkey started legal means to fight against smoking in 1996, a smoking ban took full effect in 2009 in Turkey and outlawed smoking in all enclosed public places, including bars, cafes, restaurants, taxis, trains and outdoor stadiums… Tobacco taxes in Turkey represented 65-70 percent of the retail price for many years. Since passing the revised law in 2008, taxes were gradually increased, and now represent 80.3 percent of the retail price.” (Hürriyet). The countermeasures have yielded satisfactory results since 2008, with a decline in the percentage of smoking prevalence (Hürriyet). Despite this decrease, non-smokers like me still experience the daunting consequences of secondhand smoking.

Because of the prevalence of smoking in Turkey, many non-smokers like me may face health, social and moral challenges—like in my case. Undoubtedly, some people choose not to smoke or quit smoking because they are aware of the consequences of cigarette smoking. Many non-smokers are also concerned with the health risks associated with secondhand smoking. To avoid secondhand smoking in social venues, concerned non-smokers like me sit indoors even if they would have preferred to sit outside. I try to avoid public places where there is high concentration of cigarette smoke. Also, I consider the smoking prevalence in Turkey as a public nuisance, which in some cases have caused me to err in my impression of a place or a person. Do I intend to become a smoker? Not in this world or the next. However, now I know what it really means to “smoke like a Turk”.


“No More ‘Smoking like a Turk’ With Decline in Turkey’s Tobacco Use”. Hürriyet Daily News Local. Hürriyet Daily News, 02 Jan. 2014. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.

In fall 2015, Trudy studied abroad in Istanbul, Turkey. She shares her experience in this journal she had to write for one of her immersion classes.

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