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Turkmenistan becomes the first country to effectively ban tobacco products

The president of Turkmenistan has upped the ante on anti-smoking laws this week by banning the sale of all tobacco products in the country.

Shops in the country can apparently now face fines to the tune of $1,700 if caught selling cigarettes. Of course, this isn’t exactly stopping things in their tracks—already, the sale of cigarettes on the black market has risen to over $11 a pack, according to the news site Chrono-TM, who reports on affairs under the country’s repressive regime from outside.

Meanwhile, in-country media is under lockdown. Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkmenistan the third worst place for press freedom in the world, preceded only by North Korea and Eritrea. The country’s leader, Gurbanguly erdymukhamedow, appears to be taking those controls a step further this week with the smoking bans.

This isn’t the first time the subject of smoking has come up in the country—Berdymukhamedow is frequently seen in PR shoots riding a bicycle or doing similar healthy activities and has led an aggressive anti-smoking campaign country-wide. At the beginning of January, he removed Atadurd Odmanov, the head of the State Service for Protecting the Security of a Healthy Society, from his post as Colonel for failing to effectively coax Turkmenistan’s smokers to stub out.

Last July, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Turkmenistan had the lowest rate of smokers in the world, with only 8 percent of the population recorded as tobacco users. Yet, with such restrictive media laws inside the country, we’re a little skeptical about those figures.