President Erdogan: Don't smoke, drink Turkish tea instead

Turkey, known for its prevalent tobacco use, has been urged to replace smoking with a local cup of 'cay'

Men chat as they drink tea on June 22, 2018 in Istanbul. - Turkey is preparing for tight presidential and parliamentary elections due on June 24, while many analysts say President Erdogan wants a major foreign policy success to give him a final boost. (Photo by Aris MESSINIS / AFP)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged citizens of Turkey, which has a long tradition of prevalent tobacco use, to forgo smoking and instead enjoy a local cup of tea.

Mr Erdogan, a pious Muslim known for his dislike of alcohol and cigarettes, has often urged Turks to quit both. Despite his staunch stance, he said on Sunday that he will “never” allow e-cigarettes, believed by some to be a useful tool in the fight to persuade smokers to kick the habit, to be produced in Turkey.

"They asked us for a place and permission to produce these [e-cigarettes]. We didn't give it to them and we will not … Go and make your investment elsewhere,” he said during an antismoking event in Istanbul, without specifying which firms he was referring to.

"Let's put down cigarettes and drink our Rize tea," he said. Black tea from Rize, Mr Erdogan’s family’s Black Sea homeland, is used to make Turkish tea, or cay.

"I don't make many suggestions, but as a president, I am telling those I love that this [smoking] is haram [forbidden in Islam]."

He said that tobacco companies were "getting rich by poisoning" people.

Turks are among the top ten largest tea-consuming nations, according to the United Nations, before the UK, Ireland and Morocco.

Before the country’s local elections in March, President Erdogan gave 200 gram packs of black tea to supporters, throwing them to the crowd while on the campaign trail. However, he was criticised for gifting black tea when his wife, Emine Erdogan, who is said to boast of drinking $2,000 a kilo white tea.

According to pro-government Turkish media, the president has an almost miraculous ability to convince people to quit smoking.

In 2016, it was claimed that he convinced the Bulgarian foreign minister at the time, Daniel Mitov to give up. He is also known for confiscating packs of cigarettes from followers.

Turkey banned smoking in all indoor spaces, including restaurants, bars and cafes, in a landmark move in 2009. One year later, the ban was extended to smoking in various sites such as stadiums, mosque courtyards and hospitals.

While vaping is not illegal in Turkey, purchasing or distributing e-cigarettes is. Despite this, many people procure e-cigarettes through online distributors, which also provide the liquid to put in the machines.

Last year, Mr Erdogan called e-cigarettes “bizarre” and addictive. “They claim it does not contain any nicotine or very little. But soon people will become addicted,” he said.

About 27 per cent of Turkey's population aged over 15 smoked cigarettes in 2016, World Health Organization data shows, down from about 31 per cent in 2010, with males making up the majority of smokers.