Turkey marks progress in fight against noncommunicable diseases

September 2012

Just six years ago, more than one in three adults in Turkey used tobacco products, which greatly increase the risk of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory disease. But today Turkey is a success story. A new study of health professionals showing that more than 1 in 2 Turkish health managers have given up tobacco in the past 4 years, reflects what is being seen across the country.

A man hangs a no-smoking sign at the Karum shopping mall in Ankara, Turkey
AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici

Tobacco use in Turkey declining

In Turkey, tobacco use is declining at unprecedented rates. Among the adult population, data from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2012 which will shortly be released will show a decrease in tobacco use in the last three and a half years. The same positive trend is evident amongst health professionals according to the latest Turkish Health Professionals Survey (2011). Smoking prevalence among specialist physicians decreased to 12,7% (42.5 % reduction compared with 2007), 23.9% among general practitioners (22.6 % reduction compared with 2007). The highest decrease occurred among health managers (55.5% reduction compared with 2007).

WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control key to success

This kind of progress in reducing the prevalence of tobacco use cannot be made without strong political will and governmental commitment to adopt and implement robust tobacco control policies. In this work, countries have a powerful tool in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. In 2005, Turkey became a Party to the Convention, and in 2009 Turkey became the third country in Europe to go 100 per cent smoke free, following the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“This is a crucial success of Turkey,” says Dr Maria Cristina Profili, WHO’s Representative in Turkey. “The Turkish Government successfully adopted a “whole of government” approach led by the Prime Minister and introduced a number of new tobacco control laws, and enforcement mechanisms. Driven largely by leadership from the Minister of Health, a sophisticated system of intersectoral cooperation on policy initiatives has been established in coordination with the Parliamentary Health Commission to fight the tobacco epidemic.”

The Turkish tobacco control success story is all the more impressive considering that the country is home to many tobacco growers and, until 2006, had one of the highest tobacco use prevalence levels in Europe.

Turkish leaders received WHO awards

Over the past four years, Turkish leaders (the Minister of Health in 2008, the Prime Minister in 2010, and the President of Health Commission of Turkish Grand National Assembly (2012) received 3 World Health Organization awards in acknowledgement of the country’s whole of government to protect its citizens from tobacco smoke in a short time.

While work on the other major risk factors – unhealthy diet, lack of sufficient physical exercise and inappropriate use of alcohol – steps up across the world – tobacco remains one of the most deadly and preventable cause of illness and premature death. It leads to nearly six million deaths a year including 600 000 nonsmokers exposed to second-hand smoke.

MPOWER package

A woman walks by a no-smoking sign in Turkey
AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici

Turkey has been one of 15 priority countries in the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use. WHO works with the Initiative in countries to encourage other Member States to follow Turkey’s highly successful lead. WHO's MPOWER package ( including measures for monitoring tobacco use and prevention policies; protecting people from tobacco smoke; offering help to quit tobacco use; warning about the dangers of tobacco; enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and raising taxes on tobacco products) helps reduce demand for tobacco.

Turkey has hosted several study visits of high level representatives from countries of different across the world to share best practice and lesson learned in tobacco control and especially of taxation system.

Turkey: an example for other countries

The need for other countries to follow Turkey’s example is still urgent. Less than 11% of the world's population are protected by comprehensive national smoke-free laws. Almost half of children regularly breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke and more than 40% of children have at least one smoking parent. In 2004, children accounted for 31% of the deaths attributable to second-hand smoke. Approximately one person dies every six seconds due to tobacco and this accounts for one in 10 adult deaths. Up to half of current users will eventually die of a tobacco-related disease.