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Thursday, 13 January, 2000, 22:59 GMT
Turkmen face smoking ban

President Saparmurat Niyazov President Niyazov: Reformed smoker

By Central Asia correspondent Louise Hidalgo

Turkmenistan has become the first country in the former Soviet Union to ban smoking in all public places.

The fine for anyone caught smoking in public is the equivalent of the minimum monthly wage - 500,000 manats or about $30 at the black market rate.

Many Turkmen men smoke, but announcing the ban, the country's president for life, Saparmurat Niyazov, said they should continue the traditions of their ancestors, who led a life, he said, free of vice.

smoking generic Half of Turkmen men smoke

People say the reason for the crackdown can be traced to President Niyazov's heavy smoking habit, until he was ordered to stop two years ago by doctors, following his last major heart operation.

Ever since, so the story goes, he has waged a one-man campaign against smoking, even though for many men in this impoverished nation of four million people on the edge of the former Soviet Union, it remains one of the essential pleasures of life.

The newly independent states of the former Soviet Union have proved fertile ground for the world's tobacco giants, but in Turkmenistan they have been prohibited from advertising their products on television for some time.

And six months ago, in keeping with the almost total power Turkmenistan's leader wields over every aspect of life in this remote desert nation, Mr Niyazov ordered all his government ministers also to quit.

Fine risk

The new ban goes one step further, banning smoking in every public place - parks and cinemas, private offices and government buildings - even in the army.

The fine for anyone caught flouting the president's decree is one month's wages - a huge sum in a country where many struggle to survive.

It is not clear how strictly the ban will and can be enforced.

It is believed as many as one in every two Turkmen men in the city smoke, while in the countryside people prefer the cheaper fine green powder ground from a local plant, called nuz.

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See also:
12 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Turkmen poll controversy
07 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Turkmenistan to consider legal polygamy
15 Oct 99 |  Smoking
Cigarettes: a complex cocktail of chemicals
27 Oct 98 |  Asia-Pacific
Turkmenistan celebrates independence

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