ARTICLE: BULENT AKARCALI , Former Minister of Health and Social Security
Flying Safe And Healthy
Did you know that Turkish Airlines was the first in the world to introduce a policy of no smoking on planes? People in their late thirties today don’t remember how much discomfort all the other passengers had to endure for the sake of a handful of people who wanted to smoke.
Being exposed to cigarette smoke while flying on the most high tech mode of transportation ever invented by mankind, not to mention putting up with the filthy smell that permeated our clothing for days, is now a thing of the past.
In my first week as Health Minister in 1987 I asked Dr. İhsan Doğramacı, Head of the National Commission on Higher Education, to organize a meeting of the rectors and deans of all Turkey’s universities with medical schools to discuss issues of concern to our health system. At the end of the meeting, as we were trying to come up with a slogan to express the reforms that were going to be undertaken, Dr. Doğramacı pointed to the cigarette I was holding between my fingers and asked, “Why don’t you give up smoking, Mr Minister?” His question gave us what we were looking for.
I turned over my packet of cigarettes and my lighter to Cevat Taylan when I appeared on his program on Turkish Radio and Television’s channel 2 on the 1st of January 1988. Later, as part of an anti-smoking campaign mounted by Health Ministry officials, I wrote a letter to the Transport Minister, Ekrem Pakdemirli, asking that smoking be banned on Turkish Airlines planes. Mr Pakdemirli was a convinced anti-smoker and he implemented the ban that very week, in other words, in January of 1988.
As expected, the ban unleashed a widespread reaction, both for and against. While there was strong support, some people believed that it was only a temporary ban, a token sop to the anti-smoking lobby. But all of us, from the Turkish Airlines management and the Transport Ministry on down, stood firm.
When France in 1989 and the U.S. in 1990 also backed the policy first introduced by Turkish Airlines in 1988, the ban on smoking rapidly began to spread to all the world’s airlines.
It did not come as a relief merely to airline passengers. It also brought about a significant savings in maintenance periods and expenditures by preventing the complex ventilation system which brings low-pressure, minus-40-degree air from the atmosphere into the cabin, heating it and regulating cabin air pressure, from being rapidly polluted with the concentrated tar found in cigarettes.
In the end the beneficiaries were the passengers of Turkish Airlines, who were spared, at least for the duration of the flight, the 3885 harmful substances found in nature, including arsenic, cyanide, cadmium, acetone, carbon monoxide, and nicotine, that settle in the lungs together with the tar in cigarettes.
Just consider for a moment what happens from the minute you give up this ruthless enemy of human health, which causes the death of 50 thousand cells with every drag and leaves no organ in the body undamaged: blood oxygen levels return to normal within eight hours; the risk of heart attack diminishes after 24 hours; nerve cells start to renew themselves in 48 hours, and in three months our lungs are functioning 30 percent more effectively.
If you are a smoker, then I hope the flight you are making right now and what I have written here will give you a new reason quit smoking and start the new year weaned from cigarettes.
I wish you a healthy flight in the clean air of Turkish Airlines