Smoking, Drinking - It's All Taboo in Turkey

Fresh off its success with a smoking ban, the government is targeting the drinking of alcoholic beverages.

Tuncay Ozilhan is not a name Israeli students are tested on. The Turkish businessman, who is in his 60s, is worth around $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine. Ozilhan, who controls the Anadolu Group, a giant conglomerate set up in the 1950s, is perhaps better known to Israeli pen collectors. He has a collection of around 3,000 pens, topping even former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Israeli car importers might also know him because he makes Isuzu vehicles in Turkey; he also imports Kia cars made in Russia and sells them in Ukraine and Central Asia. Israeli drink manufacturers also probably know him well because he produces Efes Pilsen beer, which is sold worldwide.

Efes Pilsen basketball team (AP)

This is where the problem starts, because Efes is not merely a brewery; it also sponsors the Turkish basketball team of the same name. It's true that the Anadolu Group also has shares in the soccer teams Partizan Belgrade and CSKA Moscow, as befits a diversified conglomerate, but Efes Pilsen is identified with the Anadolu Group as Chairman Shimon Mizrahi is with Maccabi Tel Aviv.

This connection between the beer and the basketball team is now being examined in a commercial and legal context. A new Turkish law, following a law that has banned the sale of alcoholic beverages in unauthorized places since 2008, clamps down on advertising alcoholic drinks.

This means Efes Pilsen's players will no longer be allowed to wear shirts bearing the company's name, and the owner will have to decide whether to close the team down or change the name with which it has become famous internationally.

For example, the new law forbids advertising agreements between vendors and sports clubs. It also bans slogans and logos of beverage companies and any kind of sporting activity that could promote the sale of alcoholic drinks. Also, it bans the distribution of such drinks at competitions, in hotels and at resort clubs.

It's all political

In short, the battle against alcohol is one of the Turkish government's new policies. It's a battlefield the government regards not only as a health and safety target, but also as an area where it can make political gains.

The restrictions on advertising alcoholic drinks and the law on where they can be sold are part of an initiative by Green Crescent, an organization established in 1920 to fight alcohol and drug use. The group is drawing a map of alcohol consumption around the country, focusing on problem towns.

This is not an organization whose aims are apolitical. Three years ago, it published an 88-page report in which it said that "Socialists and Social Democrats are among the highest consumers of alcohol in the country, while only 2 percent of all conservatives and students at theological institutes drink alcohol."

It added that the art world "is also responsible for spreading alcohol in society. Most of the singers of Arabesque music - the soul music that describes the difficulties of life and unrequited love - drink alcohol before going on stage."

The organization also opposes the state lottery and plans a campaign against schools that were set up with the help of the lottery.

The struggle against alcohol joins the campaign against cigarette smoking in which Turkey chalked up a huge success by winning third place in Europe and fifth place in the world in observing a smoking ban in public. Last week, the constitutional court rejected a petition by cafe and bar owners in Izmir who said the smoking ban was harming their incomes and was anti-constitutional because it violated individual freedom and freedom of vocation.

But moves against advertising cigarettes and smoking in public places did not solve the problem of high consumption. Turkey is among the world's 10 leading countries in cigarette consumption; its people spend around $29 billion annually on cigarettes, while some 60 percent live in homes where someone smokes. So who needs publicity when you have captive clients?

Turkey, Iran and sanctions

The good relations between Iran and Turkey pay off. As part of the agreement over the sale of Iranian gas to Turkey - an agreement that has not been affected by the sanctions - Turkey is supposed to pay Iran compensation for the gas it was supposed to buy but did not. But last week, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yildiz visited Tehran and agreed that Turkey would not have to pay for what it did not acquire.

In 2008, Turkey paid Iran $704 million in compensation for gas it did not buy. Apparently Turkey's renewed efforts to arrange an agreement between Iran and the West on uranium enrichment and the discussions due in Istanbul on January 20 between the West and Iran have given Turkey a bonus. And not merely concerning gas.

Last week, the Turkish construction minister visited Tehran seeking to increase Turkey's housing investments in Iran. Turkish companies are currently building some 25,000 housing units there, and the deal's scope is expected to expand considerably. The volume of bilateral trade between the countries grew in the last decade to around $10 billion, but Turkey says the sanctions have already cost it $1 billion.