Turkmenistan: the health-obsessed country where nobody smokes


The health-obsessed former Soviet republic Turkmenistan is the country with the world’s lowest proportion of smokers, the World Health Organisation’s director general, Margaret Chan, said during a visit to the isolated nation on Tuesday.

“Recently a WHO overview showed that in Turkmenistan only 8% of the population smokes,” Chan told the country’s authoritarian president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, at a health forum in the capital, Ashgabat.

“This is the lowest national indicator in the world. I congratulate you on this achievement.”

Chan said the country had ratified the framework convention on tobacco control in 2011, by which time it had already banned smoking in public places.

Also speaking at the forum, was Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, the head of the convention’s secretariat, who challenged the central Asian state to drive smoking down to 5% in the coming years.

In 1990, 27% of Turkmen men over 15 and 1% of women smoked.

A decade later Turkmenistan banned smoking in public places, state buildings and the army, and all forms of tobacco advertising.

By comparison, 31.1% of the global male population over the age of 15 smoked in 2012, and 6.2% of women were smokers.

Berdymukhamedov, who trained as a dentist and is a keen horseman, has been in power since the death of his eccentric predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, in 2006. Niyazov campaigned against smoking and built a 36km “path of health” into the mountains surrounding Ashgabat which government officials were forced to walk.

In April, the gas-rich country of more than five million held a month of public exercises and sporting events under the slogan “health and happiness”.


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