A month after a law restricting alcohol sales in Uzbekistan came into force, trade in beer, wine and spirits – over the counter at least – has dried up in downtown Tashkent.
Where the city used to be scattered with small shops selling alcohol, only a handful remain since the law designed to safeguard the nation’s health took effect on October 1.
The law bans sales of alcohol and cigarettes within a 500-meter radius of schools, places of worship and sports facilities. That rules out just about any spot in Tashkent and other towns, “despondent” alcohol traders have pointed out to the independent Uznews.net website.
A stroll around downtown Tashkent reveals that many stores that used to sell the demon drink have shut down or changed their trade. A handful of alcohol stores remain in the city center (some of which appear to be remarkably close to schools). Not surprisingly, those still in business are doing a brisk trade.
Implementation of the law seems patchy: Uznews.net found many alcohol stores still in business earlier this month, and there is anecdotal evidence that some stores sell alcohol under the counter. Restaurants, bars and nightclubs are not covered by the ban.
Trade in cigarettes seems unaffected: They remain on sale in shops and at stalls all over Tashkent. For anti-smoking campaigners, the law looks like a missed opportunity, prohibiting smoking in “places of work” but stopping short of a ban in restaurants and bars.
The legislation also bans alcohol or tobacco advertising, and prohibits sales to anyone under the age of 20 – leaving some adult Uzbeks (adulthood officially begins at 18), no longer able to buy beer or cigarettes legally.
The bill was approved last October and was due to come into force on April 1, but alcohol sellers were given a six-month reprieve.
It is officially aimed at safeguarding the nation’s health “from the damaging effect of using alcohol and tobacco, and from social and other negative consequences” – but skeptics see a potential ulterior motive for officials.
Those controlling licenses could use the legislation to extract bribes, suggested the Uzmetronom website. Ordinary people and the state coffers are losing out, said the site, while “the officials who initiated the new sales system and control licenses for the right to sell, and also shadow traders” are the big winners.