Turkmenistan authorities have banned the sale of tobacco products, according to reports. State anti-narcotics officials have been scouring the capital city Ashgabat in recent days forcing shop owners to remove cigarettes from shelves.
A recent anti-smoking campaign featured President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov taking part in outdoor activities such as cycling and running. The nation's anti-smoking efforts were slammed by Berdymukhamedov, who called for "mass measures to eradicate smoking" on 5 January leading to further measures.
According to the World Health Organization only eight per cent of the nation's citizens smoke and since the crackdown., packets of cigarettes can change hands for over £9 on the black market. Although the national ban has not been announced, independent website Chrono-TM, operating from Vienna said that stores and kiosks had been targeted.
Berdymukhamedov, a former dentist, has ruled the Caspian nation since 2006, and has increasingly clamped down on smokers. His predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov was a chain smoker who signed an anti-smoking decree in 2000 after heart surgery.
Since then stricter measures have been introduced, including a hike in excise taxes for tobacco in 2011 then compounded by a ban on smoking in public areas in 2013. The measures made cigarettes in the country more expensive than in any in the region.
The AFP quoted Bairam Saryev, 34, a store owner as saying that anti-narcotics officials "came to our shop recently and forced us to remove cigarettes from the shelves, threatening us with huge fines."
Chrono-TM says that vendors of tobacco face fines of up to 6,900 manats (£1,171; $1,680). Another trader, 24-year-old Vepa, said that the fine for violating the ban amounted to "10 (average) monthly salaries. Because of the high price, the sales of single cigarettes are growing, for about 2 manat apiece."
The state had broadcast a new media campaign which featured the mass incineration of thousands of cigarettes. In 2004, the remote landlocked Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan became the first nation in the world to ban all tobacco sales.