Citizens in Turkmenistan will have a much harder time puffing away their worries over the country's brewing economic crisis this year, following an effective ban on cigarettes in the isolated state.
Even before the latest crackdown in January, which has seen cigarettes disappear from shops and heavy regulations for the certification and import of tobacco introduced, there were bans on advertising tobacco and smoking in public spaces.
Last year, the country was declared the country with the fewest smokers per capita in the Europe and Central Asia region by the World Health Organization, a geographical category state media subsequently rephrased as “the world”.
Eurasianet provided some background to the latest anti-tobacco drive.
Dogmatic opposition to smoking among the authorities goes back a long way.
The late President Saparmurat Niyazov, who died of heart failure in late 2006, banned smoking in all public places in 2000. In doing so, he acted with the typical zeal of a former smoker. After being operated on for heart problems, he was told by doctors to give up cigarettes, which is when he decided to try and extend the prohibition to all his subjects.
Similarly, when Berdymukhamedov came to power, he was notably on the chunky side. Since then, he has embarked on an exercise drive that has visibly slimmed him down. Accordingly, he has become an energetic proponent for healthy living.
State television on January 15 broadcast the faintly surreal sight of diplomats, village elders, representatives of the local media and students shoveling narcotics and blocks of cigarettes onto a pyre.
Before airing the demonstrative act, state television showed a news report about the capture of a group of people accused of illegally smuggling cigarettes into Turkmenistan. The group included two businessmen, an official with the customs service and a representative of the government standards agency. As the report explained, the businessmen bought the cheap and low-quality cigarettes abroad, the customs official took bribes to look the other way and the standards agency official provided certification to ensure the goods could be sold in shops.
‘Bans, bans, and bans’
Netizens from neighbouring countries such as Russia have tended towards criticism of the anti-smoking restrictions, which have already seen cigarette packs double in cost on the black market according to the Eurasianet report.
Андрей Ростов likened Turkmenistan's actions to those of Russia's own ban-happy government:
Ну, Горбачёв тоже боролся с алкоголизмом и вводил “сухой закон”.
Ваш нейтральный и независимый перзидент уже уничтожил в Ашхабаде зелёные насаждения, запретил открывать окна в домах в центре города (ему гадалка нагадала, что его убьют из окна, когда он будет ехать на работу)…”(с) уничтожает спутниковые антенны и кондиционеры. Доллары запретил, теперь за сигареты взялся. Скоро будете перенимать передовой российский опыт, вы будете сжигать еду.
Well, Gorbachev also fought alcohol consumption and introduced a “dry law”. Your neutral and independent president already destroyed green trees in Ashgabat, put a ban on opening windows in the city centre (a fortune teller told him that he’ll be killed from a window on the way to work)…he destroys satellite dishes and air conditioning. [Sales of] dollars are banned, now it’s cigarettes’ turn. Very soon, you’ll go Russia's way of burning food.
An anonymous commenter added:
Запреты, запреты и запреты. Люди уже ничего не могут самостоятельно делать.
Bans, bans, and bans. People cannot do anything on their own these days.
‘Puffing away like locomotives’
Visitors to the opposition website Chrono-tm showed support for the new measures, however, and spoke in favour of healthy living. A similar trend was observed in the comments section of a YouTube report.
Сигареты — это такая гадость! Правильно, что их убирают из продажи.
Cigarettes are disgusting! It’s only correct they are banned from sale.
Говорят, что будут продавать по три пачки в месяц на человека. Ну как с долларами.
People say that they will allow three packs per person per month. Just like they did with dollars.
*Prior to the ban on dollar sales, citizens were restricted in the amount of foreign currency they could purchase.
Давно пора! Сами травятся и окружающих травят. Если на западе существует культура потребления (зоны для курящих и некурящих, ограничение в продаже несовершеннолетним, и т.д.), то в ТМ этого нет, пыхтят как паровоз где попало.
It’s overdue! Smokers kill themselves and people around them. While in the West there is a culture of consumption (areas for smokers and non-smokers, the restriction of sales to minors, etc.), there was [originally] nothing like that in Turkmenistan, [people] puffing away like locomotives anywhere.
But one commenter argued it would be better if authorities awakened a desire to live longer and healthier in the people instead of constantly imposing more restrictions and bans:
Думается, что запрещать что-либо — это полный бред. Люди так устроены, что все равно будут жить вопреки запрету. Если байствующий главарь хочет сохранить здоровье, так пусть создаст такие условия, что бы хотелось жить долго и счастливо. Тогда богатые, довольные своей жизнью люди сами избавятся от вредных привычек ради удлинения своей счастливой жизни
Banning something is complete nonsense. People are made in such a way that they will live in violation of those bans. If the leader wanted to promote a healthy lifestyle, he should create conditions where people want to live longer and more happily. Once rich and satisfied with their lives, people will shelve their unhealthy habits in order to prolong their happy lives.