Bootleg alcohol kills 23 as heavy taxes prompt Turkish home-brew

ANKARA (Reuters) - More than 20 people have died from alcohol poisoning in Turkey over the past month, according to Turkish media reports, as steep taxes on alcohol push Turks to consume bootlegged sprits.

Broadcaster Haberturk reported at the weekend that a man in the southern province of Adana had died from methanol poisoning, the twelfth such death in recent weeks in Adana. At least 23 people have died from alcohol poisoning across the nation, according to media reports.

The deaths come as prices have surged after a government tax hike of at least 8 percent on most alcoholic beverages in July. A liter of Turkey’s traditional aniseed-flavored raki spirit now costs more than 200 lira ($35.29).

The Chamber of Chemical Engineers (KMO) said the deaths were a direct result of the high taxes.

“A liter of an alcoholic drink is equal to the 3-day-wage of a worker with minimum wage... Nowhere in the world are the taxes on alcoholic drinks higher than Turkey,” the KMO said.

Under President Tayyip Erdogan, a pious Muslim, tariffs on alcohol have increased steadily. As of 2013, all advertisement, promotion and sponsorship of alcohol and tobacco products are banned.

Zafer Senyurt, chairman of the Chamber of Food Engineers in Istanbul, called on authorities to tighten controls on illegal alcohol.

“The tariffs on alcoholic drinks and the oppressive attitude of the government on the consumption of alcoholic beverages result in illegally produced alcohol. The controls must be tightened,” Senyurt told BirGun newspaper.

This month’s incidents follow repeated cases of alcohol poisoning in Turkey in recent years. In 2015, several people in Turkey died and others went blind from improperly mixing alcohols which can have a purity level of up to 95 percent.

On Saturday, police in Istanbul said they seized one ton of alcohol and 880 bottles of bootlegged spirits at three separate venues in Istanbul, with a market value of around 250,000 lira.

($1 = 5.6675 liras)

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Zeynep Arica; Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans and Peter Graff