As many of you will know, smoking in Turkmenistan is illegal in public places. It’s also incredibly difficult to buy cigarettes when you’re in Turkmenistan. In fact, Turkmenistan and Bhutan are the only countries with nationwide bans on smoking in all public places and also banning the sale of cigarettes.
Of course, people will always smoke, so where is it actually allowed, and how does one buy cigarettes? Well, the key to the law is that smoking is banned in all public places. This means you can smoke at the hotels you stay at, for example. They will usually have a smoking place around the back for their international guests and also for locals who need a quick nicotine hit. When you’re out and about, there are also some unofficial smoking areas where local law enforcement turns a blind eye. One example of this is at one of the side entrances to the Berkarar Shopping Centre. There are a few small cafes where locals flock to have a quick smoke.
Buying cigarettes is near impossible if you don’t have a local who knows where. There are several shops around Ashgabat and a few in each regional city where you can buy smokes. When you ask for cigarettes, and they feel comfortable, they bring out usually a shoebox filled with an odd assortment of smokes at varying prices. Uzbek and Iranian cigarettes are the cheapest, while Russian and European ones fetch higher prices.
The laws are only usually enforced in the major cities. If you’re in a small village, no one usually cares, and there are lots of places in Turkmenistan where you could be anywhere in the world, smoking wise that is. But of course, when you’re on the main boulevards of Ashgabat, don’t even think about taking a packet out of your pocket.
You can, of course, still bring in 2 packets into the country if you’re a foreigner, which should get you through a day or two. Most importantly, follow the lead of your guide and Turkmen government minder, who will know exactly where it is possible.