Loss of habitat leaves smokers out in the cold

Smokers are being sent packing Keystone

The anti-tobacco lobby in Switzerland is set to notch up yet another victory this week when the city of Geneva bans smoking in all municipal buildings.

This content was published on August 29, 2005 - 11:31

The decision by the city authorities comes amid a growing nationwide crackdown on passive smoking that is rapidly driving smokers out of their favourites haunts.

From the end of the month smokers among the city's 3,600 staff will be forced to brave the elements to pursue their habit.

"We are simply thinking about people's health and the risk of cancer from passive smoking," Manuel Tornare, mayor of Geneva, told swissinfo. "We have a duty to protect the health of staff."

Geneva is at the vanguard of attempts at a regional level to make passive smoking a thing of the past. Hospitals and the city's university have already banned smoking, and tobacco advertising is prohibited in the canton.

Voters in Geneva are likely to be the first in Switzerland to have their say on whether smoking should be banned in public spaces such as bars, restaurants, leisure centres, hospitals, museums and on transport.

Campaigners, who collected more than 20,000 signatures to force the vote expected to take place next year, claim they have the backing of 70 per cent of the population.

"I support the initiative 100 per cent," said the non-smoking Tornare. "People can do as they please in their own homes but they should not be allowed to impose [smoke] on others in public places which belong to everyone.

"I don't see this as a repressive measure but rather an issue of public health which we should have addressed a lot quicker. It's simply a question of common sense."

Smoking restrictions

The speed with which smoking restrictions are sweeping into all corners of the country has been remarkable.

For decades Switzerland has been a bastion for smokers, with cheap cigarette prices and few restrictions on where you can spark up. But over the past couple of years the walls of their citadel have not just been crumbling but collapsing.

Campaigners claimed another notable scalp earlier this year when it was announced that smoking would be banned on Switzerland's trains, buses, and boat services as well as inside transport company buildings from December 11.

Elsewhere Ticino's parliament has been asked to approve blanket restrictions on smoking in restaurants, bars and hotels. Other cantons are also turning the screw on smokers, either through similar legislation or prohibiting cigarette sales to under-18s.

Doctor Jean-Charles Rielle, a member of the campaign committee behind the Geneva vote and head of Tobacco Prevention Geneva, believes it is simply a matter of time before legislation banning smoking in public spaces is enacted at a federal level.

Rielle, a long-time and vocal campaigner against passive smoking, suggests that if the government fails to act decisively – and quickly – either the cantons or the population will force a nationwide vote on the issue.

"Society has evolved and has recognised the dangers of passive smoking, and I think we are on the verge of seeing smoking in public places banned across Switzerland," said Rielle.

Passive smoking

Whether a nationwide vote will be necessary depends on how swiftly things move at a federal level where the issue of passive smoking is in hand.

A motion calling for a ban on smoking in public places is waiting for the green light from the Senate's committee for social security and health before it can go before the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The Federal Health Office is due to produce a report by the end of the year on how to protect non-smokers from passive smoking.

"The process towards increasing protection of non-smokers from passive smoking and more efficient tobacco control is in progress. But we cannot say how long the legislative process will take," said Sabina Müller, spokeswoman for the Federal Health Office.

Next year the Health Office is also due to start work on preparing a revision to the law to include a ban on tobacco advertising. As it stands it is only outlawed in three cantons: Geneva, Basel City and Zug.

The European Union banned tobacco advertising in the print media, on the radio and over the internet from July 31 this year. Tobacco sponsorship of cross-border cultural and sporting events is also prohibited.

Unstoppable juggernaut

Faced by what appears to be an unstoppable juggernaut, Gastrosuisse, the restaurant and hotel owners' association, has been mounting the barricades in what may be a futile last stand.

The organisation claims turnover has declined by ten per so far this year as a result of tougher drink-driving restrictions introduced on January 1 and it warns that a smoking ban could push many establishments over the edge.

This is a view held by Laurent Terlinchamp, president of the Geneva café, restaurant and hotel owners' association, who says he feels powerless in the face of the "aggressive and violent" campaign to outlaw smoking in the city.

"We are fully aware of the dangers of passive smoking and of the fact that 70 per cent of our clientele don't smoke," said Terlinchamp, whose organisation counts 1,400 members.

"But we feel there are already enough establishments in Geneva to cater for the demands of non-smokers and smokers alike. We don't think there is a need for additional legislation which will be difficult to enforce."

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

In brief

Geneva, which is home to the World Health Organization, has taken a pioneering stance in introducing anti-smoking measures, such as banning tobacco advertising on billboards.

Official statistics attribute 8,300 premature deaths to smoking a year and say it costs SFr5 billion a year through sickness and loss of productivity.

In May the Federal Health Office launched a campaign to curb passive smoking in the workplace. It forms part of a four-year nationwide anti-smoking campaign launched in 2001, which has now been extended to 2007.

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