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Feature: Turks become more willing to quit smoking over health concerns amid COVID-19 outbreak



Turkish smokers have become more willing to quit smoking during the COVID-19 outbreak, as health has become their major concerns, experts said.

Evidence suggests that smokers might be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as their fingers frequently touch their lips, increasing the likelihood of being infected with the virus through their hands.

Smokers may also have lung problems and reduced breathing capacity, which could affect their abilities to battle coronavirus.

“We have recorded a significant rise in the number of people contacting our organization to help them quit smoking during this pandemic,” said Mucahit Ozturk, president of a Turkish anti-addiction group Yesilay (Green Crescent).

He noted that the public health media coverage of the risks of smoking during the coronavirus outbreak has largely deterred smokers.

“People rushed to phones to call us asking for our help in quitting this bad habit, and we are happy to help them as this virus ferociously attacks lungs and may lead to severe pneumonia and death,” said Ozturk, a doctor specializing in lung diseases and psychiatry.

Smokers, according to Ozturk, are 14 times more predisposed to COVID-19 infections than non-smokers, suggesting smokers be isolated like the elderly and those with health problems.

“Using tobacco and tobacco products increases the risk of catching the coronavirus. Therefore, avoiding all addictive substances plays an important role in protecting ourselves against the virus,” he said.

“Smoking can cause damage to the lungs and block the cough reflex, so viruses and bacteria could stick to the airways and lungs, which could lead to serious infections,” the doctor added.

A public hotline set up to help smokers quit was used by more than 27 million people between 2015 and 2018, according to the Turkish health ministry’s data.

The World Health Organization has been urging smokers to stop and seclude themselves to avoid placing the lives of those around them in danger.

Turkey is a country with a large number of smokers. In recent years, the number saw a relative decrease after government health campaigns and high taxes imposed on cigarettes, but a recent survey showed the number of smokers is on the rise again.

According to a nationwide health survey published on Friday by the Statistical Board (Tuik), 28 percent of people aged 15 and older in Turkey are smoking on a daily basis, a 1.5-percent rise compared with 2016 figures.

“100,000 people are dying in Turkey each year because of smoking and related health problems. This is extremely high, and the treatment is also very expensive,” a health official told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

The official said restrictions imposed 10 years ago on smoking in public places and enclosed spaces had led to a drop of smokers, and the bans should be closely monitored these days as Turkey spends 25 billion United States dollars annually on smoking and related illnesses.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a staunch teetotaler, is leading the anti-tobacco campaign.

On May 31, the World No Tobacco Day, he scathed the tobacco industry, saying it entrapped millions of young people into addiction.

In additional to anti-smoking efforts, Turkey banned in February the import of e-cigarettes and related products and also began implementing a new regulation for plain packaging to decrease the attractiveness of tobacco products to smokers.

Water pipe or hookah smoking is another problem in Turkey. Hookah lounges are temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but they are generally popular among young people in big cities such as Istanbul or Ankara.

Cevdet Erdol, president of Health Sciences University, sounded the alarm bell on hookah smoking during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Nargile (hookah) consumption is particularly hazardous as it can easily infect people within seconds,” warned Erdol, also a former health minister.


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