According to the World Health Organization, “the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced.” It estimates that around 1 billion people smoke worldwide, with 80 percent of those smokers living in low- and middle-income countries. Now the president of one of those countries, Turkmenistan, has apparently made the move to outlaw the sale of tobacco products, effectively making smoking illegal.
The move has been reported by an independent website Chrono-TM, which covers Turkmenistan from abroad since its media is entirely state-run. The move was enacted after a state broadcast showed thousands of cigarette packets being incinerated during a push by the government to stop people smoking. The BBC reports it has had confirmation from sources within the country that cigarettes have indeed disappeared from the shelves.
The current leader of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymukamedow, is well-known for promoting healthy living. State television broadcasts frequently show programs encouraging active lifestyles, with Berdymukamedow himself even appearing in some of the broadcasts, engaging in activities such as cycling and fishing. Chrono-TM reports that now if anyone is caught selling tobacco products, they face a fine of $1,680 (£1,170). This has already led to a black market in tobacco products emerging, with a single pack now apparently costing as much as $12 (£8.30), a high price for a developing country.
Tobacco is one the biggest killers in the world, with an estimated 6 million people dying as a result of it every year. While around 5 million of these deaths are attributed to directly smoking tobacco, more than 600,000 die as a result of inhaling second hand smoke. The World Health Organization states that: “Tobacco users who die prematurely deprive their families of income, raise the cost of health care and hinder economic development.”
The move to ban all tobacco products follows Berdymukamedow heavily criticizing the State Service for Protecting the Security of a Healthy Society for not doing enough to prevent people smoking. It makes Turkmenistan only one of a handful of countries to ban tobacco, after Bhutan became the first to do so in 2004. The small Himalayan country, however, has seen a flourishing black market in cigarettes that enter the country from neighboring India.
Berdymukamedow has ruled the central Asian nation of Turkmenistan since 2006, and has fostered an almost cult-like following. A little more moderate than his predecessor, he is still a highly authoritarian leader, controlling all media within the country, banning political opposition, and persecuting religious and ethnic minorities.