Tobacco control activities in Turkey enter a new phase, with leaders looking to ensure sustainability

WHO

Dr Recep Akdağ, the Minister of Health of the Republic of Turkey, speaks at the tobacco control event in Ankara, with large-scale examples of plain packaging on either side of the lectern.

More than 100 representatives from public institutions, academia and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) gathered in Ankara on 9 February 2017 to discuss recent steps taken and planned measures to strengthen tobacco control in Turkey.

“Today, I am glad to see multisectoral commitment to tobacco control efforts from academia, NGOs, WHO and other partners,” said Dr Recep Akdağ, Minister of Health of the Republic of Turkey. “We have several new policies and laws to be introduced in the coming days. For example, we have completed preparations for the introduction of plain packaging. We have new practices to reinforce the enforcement of smoking bans. We are determined to ensure that these measures are sustainable. We do this for the future of our children, for our young people and our society.”

Tobacco control is embedded in the Sustainable Development Goals, with target 3.a aiming to “strengthen the implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries, as appropriate”.

Technology as a tool for tobacco control

During the meeting, Dr Akdağ and Dr Mücahit Öztürk, President of the Turkish Green Crescent Society, together announced the launch of “Green Detector”, a new mobile application that enables citizens to alert health teams about violations of the indoor smoking ban. The application is designed to cover the entire country.

“With this application, we can utilize the benefits of technology so our citizens will be able to very easily and quickly alert the appropriate authorities if they observe any violations to the indoor smoking ban,” explained Dr Öztürk. “But it is not just an alert mechanism, it is also a symbol of mobilized efforts in support of tobacco control.” The application was developed by the Turkish Green Crescent Society, which is one of the leading actors in Turkey’s fight against substance addictions.

The meeting also addressed the topic of tobacco cessation. Dr Dongbo Fu, Technical Officer for Tobacco Cessation at WHO headquarters, briefed participants on findings from a recent study entitled “Tobacco cessation services in Turkey”. The country has developed a comprehensive tobacco cessation and treatment system to support tobacco users in their efforts to quit. The system reaches 3.5% of all tobacco users each year. The quit rate among tobacco users who receive specialized tobacco cessation services, combined with medication, is more than 32%. The study shows that the integration of technology such as text messaging can enhance these services.“We are happy to see the concrete support of the Turkish Green Crescent Society and WHO in the area of tobacco control,” said Dr Cevdet Erdöl, Rector of the Health Sciences University. “These efforts show that collaboration among many sectors makes it possible to counteract and respond to the challenges of tobacco.”

Turkey moves to implement plain packaging

The meeting provided an opportunity for the Turkish Government to express its support for implementing plain packaging measures, which are designed to reduce the appeal of smoking. “As the Parliament, we are ready to support plain packaging implementation,” commented Dr Necdet Ünüvar, Member of Parliament. “Our experience in tobacco control and the broad support from society will further pave the way for this implementation.”

While the meeting focused specifically on new tobacco control measures in the country, Dr Vural Kavuncu, Head of the Commission of Health, Family and Labour of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, reminded participants that Turkey has been a leader in this area for some time. “Turkey was the first country to fulfil all 6 criteria of WHO’s MPOWER measures,” he said. “We have a long history in tobacco control and we will continue; in fact, we will accelerate our activities in the coming days. It is an important public health challenge. Tobacco kills; it reduces the quality of life for people.”