Tobacco law draft targets under 18s

A kiosk warning that no under 18 can buy cigarettes - at the moment the age limit varies from canton to canton (archive picture) KEYSTONE/Christian Beutler

This content was published on November 30, 2018

Young people will not be allowed to buy cigarettes in Switzerland under a draft law put forward by the government. But critics have decried the proposal for making no mention of tobacco advertising.

“The draft tobacco products law increases child protection in that it bans the selling of tobacco products to the under 18s across Switzerland. Depending on the canton, the current age limit [for buying tobacco] is between 16 and 18 years old, with three cantons having no age limit at all,” explained the Federal Health Office in a statement on FridayExternal link.

E-cigarettes, whether they contain nicotine or not, and electric smoking systems (heat-not-burn products) would come under the federal law against passive smoking – and so would be banned from non-smoking areas.

Advertising issue

The draft law will now go for approval to parliament. In 2016 parliament threw out a first version over disagreements on tobacco advertising. Both houses rejected a ban, saying that it went too far and was unlikely to be effective. The proposal was sent back to the Federal Council, the Swiss government, to be redrafted.

“In line with the parliamentary mandate of 2016 (rejection) the draft does not foresee any new limits on advertising,” Friday’s statement continued.

“As the draft law does not fulfil certain minimum requirements concerning advertising restrictions and sponsoring, the ratification of the WHO [World Health Organization] Framework Agreement on Tobacco Control - which has been ratified by 181 countries – is not possible for Switzerland. The ratification of the framework agreement remains, however, a government goal.”

+ Read more about the non-ratification of the agreement in this explainer

Not far enough

Currently tobacco advertising is banned on television and radio, and it is not allowed to target children. This makes Switzerland one of the most tolerant countries in Europe when it comes to tobacco advertising, according to Swiss public television RTSExternal link.

Cantons will be permitted to tighten rules on advertising themselves, according to the draft law.

Criticism came on Friday from an alliance of 87 organisations, including health NGOs and doctors’ groups, which said the proposal “lacked significant improvements to protect children and young people from marketing by tobacco firms”. It was now up parliament to correct the damage it had caused in the draft law, the Swiss consortium for tobacco control statement saidExternal link.

There has already been action on the issue. In spring an initiativeExternal link calling for tobacco advertising that targets children and young adults to be banned was launched by an alliance called “Healthy Switzerland”. This was in response to the failed first draft law and what the initiators called “watered down” proposals from the government.

+More on this initiative, which has the backing of many public health organisations, here

The Federal Health Office estimates that around 9,500 people die a year as a result of tobacco consumption – 15% of deaths in Switzerland. There are around two million smokers in the country.

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