Turkmenistan’s government bodies have pushed shops to end selling cigarettes, investors in Ashgabat explained Thursday, after its president advised citizens to quit the habit. State anti-narcotics representatives “came to our shop lately and pressured us to take away all cigarettes from the shelves, charging us with large fines,” explained Bairam Saryev, the 34-year-old holder of a small shop in the capital.
Saryev’s store was one of those focused in a trend of raids in the remote Central Asian country after President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov criticized the country’s anti-smoking plan at a televised government conference on January 5.
Since that time, proprietors of kiosks and stores have only sold cigarettes under the counter and “only to repeat customers and friends,” stated one Ashgabat kiosk trader.
The prohibit on cigarette sales has not been formally declared or published by the government. However, 24-year-old Vepa explained that the charge for infringing the ban amounted to “10 monthly salaries.”
The sweeping step has ended in already excessive prices for a package of cigarettes doubling on the street from about 25 manat to 50 manat (about $14), Vepa explained. “Due to the high price, sales of single cigarettes are increasing, for approximately 2 manat apiece,” he added.
Turkmenistan is currently the country with the smallest number of smokers worldwide, based on the World Health Organisation.
Only 8 % of the population in Turkmenistan smokes, WHO Chief Margaret Chan stated last year, calling it “the smallest national indicator in the world.”
The country’s former president Saparmurat Niyazov was a heavy smoker who gave up in 2000 after heart surgery and later adopted an anti-smoking decree.
Slowly but surely stricter steps have been phased in since then, like an increase in excise taxes for tobacco in 2011 and a prohibit on smoking in public regions in 2013.
These actions had by now made cigarettes in Turkmenistan more costly compared to other countries in the ex-Soviet region.