Union representing Religious Affairs employees demands ban on cigarette sales during lockdown

The president of a union representing employees of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs on Wednesday asked the government to impose a ban on the sale of cigarettes for 17 days from Thursday as part of a new series of lockdown measures to curb a surge in COVID-19 cases, the Duvar news website reported.

Nuri Ünal said in a written statement that the government needed to take measures to discourage people from smoking. “Authorities should take measures to make cigarettes less accessible,” he said. “Shops should be prevented from selling cigarettes until people are convinced to quit smoking.”

The remarks came after the government banned the sale of alcoholic beverages in stores during the lockdown.

The ban drew the ire of secular Turks, who reacted on social media under the hashtag #alkolümedokunma (Don’t touch my alcohol).

The hashtag was the top trending item on Twitter in Turkey as of Tuesday afternoon as thousands of social media users accused the president of trying to force his Islamic values on the nation of 83 million by way of a ban that has nothing to do with the coronavirus pandemic.

Many opposition politicians and activists described the ban as “an apparent attempt to interfere in people’s lifestyles” and “an effort at social engineering.”

The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a vocal opponent of alcohol and tobacco consumption, has regularly raised taxes on the products at far above the rate of inflation since it came to power in 2002.

President Erdoğan on Monday announced what he termed a nationwide “full closure,” noting that daily infections must immediately be lowered to below 5,000 so Turkey can reopen in tandem with the rest of Europe and attract tourists.

Erdoğan has been holding dozens of party conventions in closed sports arenas attended by tens of thousands of people from across the country, which health experts say contributed to the worst peak in the outbreak.

The country reported 37,312 new coronavirus cases and 353 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the pandemic’s death toll to 38,711.

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