Kazakhstan Bans Public Smoking, Raises Drinking Age to 21

by VR Sreeraman on Sep 30 2009 3:43 PM

Kazakhstan's government said Tuesday it would impose a total ban on smoking in public places and raise the drinking age to 21, a rare step in the hard-drinking, heavy-smoking former Soviet Union.

"We are now following the recommendations of the World Health Organization, according to whose data more than 30,000 people die every year in Kazakhstan from smoking," health ministry spokeswoman Agmagul Abenova told AFP.

"We also continue to struggle against alcoholism, and therefore have introduced new regulations against it," she added.

The new regulations, published in Kazakh newspapers on Tuesday, come into effect October 9.

Kazakhstan already bars people from smoking in public venues, such as stadiums and on public transport, but the new rules extend the ban to the Central Asian country's notoriously smokey bars and nightclubs.

Although many European nations have public smoking bans, few ex-Soviet countries have followed suit, and none besides conservative Tajikistan have raised the legal drinking age.

Kazakhstan's smoking ban does not match the strictness of neighbouring Turkmenistan where former dictator Saparmurat Niyazov barred smoking even on the streets.

Alcoholism and smoking-related illnesses are a major health problem in the former Soviet Union, which saw a huge decline in average male life expectancy following the collapse of Communism nearly two decades ago.

Kazakhstan's drinking age was previously 18.