ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan: Turkmenistan's authoritarian leader launched an "unprecedented" anti-smoking crusade on Thursday, ordering the Central Asia country to rid itself completely of tobacco within two years.
President Serdar Berdymukhamedov said the "uncompromising" struggle against smoking would include a crackdown on "illegal importations of tobacco products and their sales, including shisha pipes and electronic cigarettes," state media reported.
"Our state will launch a vast anti-tobacco movement of unprecedented size to help expand the tobacco-less countries of the world," he added.
Strict anti-smoking measures — including bans on advertising and smoking in public places — are already in place in the former Soviet republic that has been ruled with an iron fist by the Berdymukhamedov family for nearly two decades.
It is also only possible to buy cigarettes in state shops.
Berdymukhamedov, who was handed the reins of power last year by his father Gurbanguly — a dentist turned autocrat — wants the country to be tobacco-free in 2025.
Around 20 young men were arrested at its borders for "smuggling tobacco and shisha and electronic cigarette products", state television said Thursday.
One of them was filmed making a public apology for smoking a shisha at his home and posting a video of it to Instagram, which is banned in the closed nation. The oil and gas-rich Caspian state is one of the worst in the world for press freedom, coming just below Syria in the Reporters Without Borders annual index.
President Berdymukhamedov said he had "severely reprimmanded" the head of Turkmenistan's customs service for the "poor execution of his functions".
Despite his retirement, Berdymukhamedov senior, known as "Arkadag" (Hero Protector), continues to dominate the country, one of the worst emitters of planet-heating methane gas.
He and his son regularly regale the nation with their singing, and he has a city, a TV channel, a newspaper and a football team named in his honour.