Smoke-free in Dushanbe: a café ahead of its time

Khurshed Zaripov is manager at the smoke-free Cafe Mazza in Dushanbe.

In Tajikistan’s capital city of Dushanbe, it is not difficult to find restaurants and cafés serving everything from national dishes like plov and freshly baked non to burgers and salads. But it can be hard to find one where you can guarantee that the person sitting next to you won’t be smoking. This is because Tajikistan currently allows smoking in restaurants, although a new tobacco-control law making its way to the Parliament will limit the ability to do so. Still, one café has already gone smoke-free for its customers and their families.

“We wanted the café to be welcoming for families with children,” says Khurshed Zaripov, Manager of the smoke-free Café Mazza. The owner and his team also wanted to keep the air in the café free from cigarette smoke to let customers enjoy the smells coming from the kitchen – fresh pastas, soups and sandwiches, along with homemade cakes and cookies. So they did something very few places in Tajikistan have done: they put up a no-smoking sign and asked customers to step outside if they needed a cigarette break.

Positive feedback about no-smoking policy

After the initial reaction of surprise from customers, the café’s smoke-free policy has helped its business, attracting non-smokers and smokers alike. On a warm spring day, one customer, Golibsho, sat and enjoyed a cup of coffee inside. He said a smoke-free café is a good idea. “Smoking is harmful, and we don’t want future generations to see people smoking and learn from them. This is not a good habit.” He said even though he smokes he wouldn’t take his own children to a café where people were smoking.

Tobacco control law aims to tighten rules on smoking in public places

The Ministry of Health in Tajikistan is working to submit an updated law on tobacco control to the Parliament, hopefully by the beginning of summer. The law would strengthen tobacco control in many areas, such as:

  • regulating the production, import and export of tobacco products;
  • tightening rules on where and how tobacco products can be sold;
  • limiting advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco;
  • increasing tobacco taxes; and
  • restricting smoking in certain environments.

While the law calls for a complete smoking ban in administrative buildings and on public transportation, it only requires that catering facilities, such as restaurants and cafés, have a separate area for smoking.

The WHO Country Office in Tajikistan provided technical assistance in revising the current law and finalizing the draft law. WHO also provided detailed comments about the discrepancies between the draft law and the recommendations of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), as laid out in its Guidelines for implementation.

National advocates of tobacco control, such as the Consumer Protection Association, say the law is a step in the right direction – towards a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places. But they would like to see the government go further with the legislation, in keeping with WHO FCTC recommendations, and eventually ban smoking completely in restaurants and cafés.

Tobacco control measures support sustainable development

Within the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Sustainable Development Goal 3.A specifically commits countries to strengthening the implementation of the WHO FCTC. The inclusion of tobacco control and implementation of the WHO FCTC as a key target recognizes the magnitude of the smoking epidemic. It also indicates that all countries should prioritize tobacco control and commit to implementing strong tobacco control measures.

WHO/Europe has hosted a number of discussions in Tajikistan about the importance of implementing comprehensive tobacco control measures. These have included sharing the experiences of neighbouring countries.

Research clearly and unequivocally shows that there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke. Therefore, comprehensive smoke-free laws offer the only effective means of eliminating the risks associated with second-hand tobacco smoke.

Smoke-free public places protect non-smokers in particular, but they also have many other benefits, such as providing smokers with a strong incentive to cut down or quit, and discouraging people – especially youth – from starting to smoke. They also benefit businesses, as families with children, most non-smokers and even smokers themselves often prefer smoke-free establishments. Smoke-free public places provide a low-cost method for reducing exposure to tobacco smoke.