Fighting for smoke-free public places – an interview with the Consumer Protection Association in Tajikistan

WHO

Elena Kravchenko, left, works with tobacco data during a workshop about reporting on tobacco, held in Dushanbe in March 2017.

In her daily work at the Consumer Protection Association in Tajikistan, Elena Kravchenko gets some strong reactions. “If you prohibit smoking everywhere in public places, I’ll just sit at home and not go anywhere” – this was one statement emailed by a local citizen in response to efforts to introduce smoke-free public places.

“We try to inform about the dangers of passive smoking to the people in the company of smokers, especially children and pregnant women, and to inform people that we are not trying to control their rights but to enforce rules which benefit everyone,” says Elena.

In Tajikistan, there is little understanding about the dangers of second-hand smoke and most smokers believe it is their right to smoke wherever they want. Nevertheless, the country is experiencing a slow shift towards increased awareness. “In the past year, I can see changes at the Government and Ministry of Health level. A tobacco law is undergoing revision, and people are starting to ask questions about the harmful effects of smoking,” she says.

Since 2002, the Consumer Protection Association has worked to defend the rights of consumers related to safe drinking water, food safety and electricity supply. It took on tobacco control as a priority issue in 2015. One of the main challenges is to create awareness about the need to protect non-smokers from smoke in public places.

According to Elena, “Some smokers support smoke-free public places as they say this could help them quit.” According to the 2014 Global Youth Tobacco Survey, around 70% of Tajik youth (13–15 years of age) are around people who smoke, and 93% think that smoking should be banned from public places.

Another key problem the Consumer Protection Association tries to address is the sale of tobacco products to minors on the street and as single cigarettes. “There is obvious marketing of tobacco to young people and a need to raise the awareness of legislators that this must be controlled,” says Elena.

Her organization reaches out to create awareness by holding events in public places, hosting a Facebook page dedicated to tobacco control and maintaining a website where the public can share concerns and opinions. Recently, it organized a study tour for members of Parliament to the Russian Federation to learn about the challenges the Government faced in introducing tobacco control, and to see first-hand how legislation can successfully ban smoking in public places.