Speech: Success of tobacco control in Turkey and release of the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2013

Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General

Remarks on World No Tobacco Day
Success of tobacco control in Turkey and release of the Global Adult Tobacco, Survey 2013

Istanbul, Turkey, 31 May 2013

Your Excellency, Prime Minister Erdogan, honourable ministers, distinguished partners in the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, friends and colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

I am most pleased to mark World No Tobacco Day in Turkey, a country that is a model of success in tobacco control and an inspiration for the world.

This year’s theme for World No Tobacco Day is a call to ban advertising, promotion, and sponsorship.

Turkey has already done that, of course, in line with its commitments as a State Party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Moreover, this country was the first in the world to achieve all six MPOWER demand-reduction measures for tobacco control at the highest possible level of achievement.

No other country in the world has done this.

Today, people in Turkey breathe more easily than they did just a few years ago. They are hospitalized for smoking-related diseases less often, and they die from these diseases in smaller numbers.

Turkey’s success in tobacco control has stunned many observers.

The odds were not on your side. All the cards were stacked to favour a continuing tobacco epidemic that was one of the worst in the world.

Tobacco consumption has deep historical roots in Turkey. Its world-famous oriental tobacco has been cultivated for more than 400 years, dating back to the Ottoman Empire.

Tobacco production and use were part of this country’s political history and its cultural identity.

Tobacco production was a major driver of the economy.

Some of the toughest battles in public health occur when policies that promote health cross purposes with powerful economic interests.

In 2000, 20% of the five million patients hospitalized in Turkey had a smoking-induced disease. Smoking-induced disease accounted for more than half of all hospital deaths.

In 2007, Prime Minister Erdogan made a striking observation. “Tobacco products,” he said, “are literally murdering our future generations.”

At that time, the Prime Minister, who is a non-smoker, was part of a minority group. More than half of all Turkish men were daily smokers.

The Prime Minister followed that statement with action. Three weeks later, he signed into law a ban on smoking in all enclosed public places.

He was just getting started. In 2008, more tobacco control legislation was passed that made indoor spaces 100% smoke-free, including in the hospitality sector.

That legislation gave Turkey some of the most stringent tobacco control measures in the world.

Big Tobacco rattled its sabres. Shopping malls would go bankrupt, they claimed. Restaurants will lose all their customers. Small businesses will be ruined.

Newspapers will fold as they lose their advertising revenues. The measures will be hugely unpopular, and the government will lose support.

None of this happened.

Instead, people stopped smoking in droves.

Public opinion changed.

A practice once considered socially acceptable began to be viewed with disgust.

This is another reason why Turkey is such a good success story.

Non-smokers now make up the majority of the Turkish population. The country’s tough tobacco control measures give them powerful rights.

But the most important outcome is the impact on health.

Last year, studies showed a 20% drop in the number of people admitted to hospitals for the treatment of smoking-related disease.

That is worth celebrating on World No Tobacco Day.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today is also an occasion to release the results of the latest Global Adult Tobacco Survey.

Turkey was the first country in the world to complete data collection for the 2008 survey. Turkey is one of only two countries to repeat the survey in 2012.

Now we can know for sure if the country’s tobacco control measures are working.

The news for Turkey is good, remarkably good, but also predictably good, given the measures this country has taken.

From 2008 to 2012, smoking prevalence among Turkish adults dropped from 31% to 27%, a relative decline of 13%. This is an outstanding achievement over just four years.

What do you want next, Mr Prime Minister? A tobacco-free Turkey? This time, the odds are in your favour. The cards are stacked to win.

With strong demand-reduction measures in place, helping more current smokers to stop would be a logical next step.

What lessons can we take from Turkey’s success?

Political commitment has been decisive, but so has a strong civil society movement. Broad-based support is also important, especially when you are up against a big, powerful, rich, and ruthless industry.

That means support from a large number of government sectors, working together in the name of health.

It means support from more than 40 Turkish organizations that form the Turkish National Coalition on Tobacco or Health.

A long time ago, the Lucky Strike cigarette brand ran an advertising campaign addressed to women. The campaign asked the ladies to “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.”

Today, thanks to outstanding leadership and commitment, far fewer Turkish citizens are reaching for a cigarette.

This, I find, is a true “Turkish delight”.

This country’s leadership in forging tough policies for tobacco control goes beyond safeguarding the health of the Turkish people.

It is a model for other countries to follow, and it is a source of great encouragement.

I thank the Turkish government for using lessons from its own success to assist other countries in their tobacco control initiatives.

I thank the Turkish government for collaborating so closely with WHO.

This is another piece of good news to mark this World No Tobacco Day.

The Minister of Health and I will be signing a letter of intent, committing WHO and the government of Turkey to work together to extend the success in this country to other countries in the region and beyond.

Turkey is the only country in the world to receive three WHO awards for achievements in tobacco control.

We know from the Olympics how much the world loves a winner, especially a record-breaking winner.

Today, Turkey will break that record again.

I will shortly present the WHO Director-General’s World No Tobacco Day Special Recognition Certificate to His Excellency, Prime Minister Erdogan.

Thank you, Turkey, for being such a shining, and inspiring, model of success. Tobacco control works.

If it can work in a country like Turkey, with such a long history and entrenched culture of tobacco production and use, it can work anywhere.

Thank you.