Smoke signals

Publish date 26-03-2023

by Claudio Monge

In a Turkey that has entered the decisive phase of a harsh and extraordinarily important electoral campaign, in view of the presidential and parliamentary elections of June 2023, the centenary year of the Republic, gleaning from the curious news concerning the "palaces of power", the one of a very particular exhibition stands out, in the sumptuous setting of the presidential residence of Bestepe in Ankara. The Turkish Presidency is presenting, in elegant wooden displays (much more valuable than their contents), the 215 boxes of cigarettes belonging to people whom President Tayyip Erdoğan has made promise to stop smoking.

Known for his opposition to smoking, combined with a natural and somewhat paternalistic propensity for the "moralization of morals" (of others), Erdoğan has apparently started collecting packets for several years of cigarettes during his travels and national and international meetings. In the exhibition hall there are several images of the President promptly portrayed at the very moment of collecting the packages in question from smokers in the mood for heroic renunciations, in front of the illustrious witness. Among the owners of the packets of cigarettes on display, there are famous people as well as unknown emeritus: ministers (including the former Bulgarian foreign minister Daniel Mitov) and deputies, or more modest mukhtar (heads village or neighbourhood, in big cities) but also ordinary citizens. You don't notice, at least in the images, women who, moreover, don't abstain from smoking in Turkey! President Erdoğan's campaign (we were about to call it a crusade, but it would have been at least indelicate) does not seem to make discounts even in the family entourage, so much so that, among the exhibits, the pack of cigarettes that Erdoğan received from his brother Mustafa, back in 2010.

For the record, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are currently 1.1 billion smokers in the world. According to official statistics, Turkey ranks 40th among the countries of the world in terms of smokers, with 25.95% of the population addicted to cigarettes. While smoking is the leading cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is the fourth most common cause of death in the world, experts estimate that there are 5 million undiagnosed COPD patients in Turkey. In recent years, the government of the Justice and Development Party (AK) has taken several measures to curb the use of cigarettes.

Claudio Monge
NP January 2023

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