Turkey considers tighter limits on alcohol sale and consumption

ANKARA Mon May 13, 2013 12:13pm EDT

ANKARA May 13 (Reuters) - The Turkish government has prepared a draft law that would ban advertising alcoholic drinks in what officials say is an effort to protect children but could further divide religious and secularist Turks.

The bill, which was sent to parliament on Friday, would also ban companies that produce alcohol from sponsoring events, restrict where alcoholic drinks are sold and consumed, and require Turkish producers to place health warnings on packaging.

"Our aim is to protect society, particularly children and youth from taking up these habits at an early age, and not to limit an adult's alcohol consumption," Yahya Akman, a lawmaker in the ruling AK Party and one of the draft's signatorees, told Reuters on Monday.

The move was made only weeks after the conservative prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, who is known for his dislike of alcohol, declared ayran, a non-alcoholic, yogurt refreshment as the national drink.

It follows a ban on drinks service on several routes flown by state-run Turkish Airlines.

Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol. Although Turkey's population is 99 percent Muslim, it has a secular constitution. It belongs to NATO and is a candidate for European Union membership.

Many secularist-minded Turks fear tighter rules on drinking could undermine the separation of state and religion.

The bill, expected to become a law before parliament recesses in July, would bar venues that allow the sale and consumption of alcohol from openly displaying the products to people outside.

The government says it is not attempting to interfere in people's lives and is trying to bring Turkey up to European norms by controlling alcohol sales and protecting the younger generation as it negotiates to enter the EU.

"This is to make sure that alcohol consumption is not encouraged among young people. The state has a responsibility to protect the family and the public," Akman said.

Passage of the law would also be another blow to local brewers that are already grappling with taxes that are more than 100 percent on alcohol, one of the highest in the world.

Akman said public health is a higher priority than companies' revenues.

"A company's profit is insignificant when compared with the health of the general public, which is what's at stake here." (Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, editing by Ayla Jean Yackley and Angus MacSwan)

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