Swiss back further restrictions on tobacco advertising

On Sunday 56.6% of voters supported the “Yes to the protection of children against tobacco advertising” people’s initiative. Pictured: A campaign poster that reads: "Children without tobacco. Vote yes on February 13. More children smoke because of tobacco ads." © Keystone / Ennio Leanza

Voters have agreed to limit advertising for tobacco products that may be seen by young people in Switzerland.

This content was published on February 13, 2022 minutes

On Sunday 56.6% of voters supported the “Yes to the protection of children against tobacco advertising” people’s initiative. A majority of the country’s 26 cantons also backed the proposal, allowing it to pass.

People living in French- and Italian-speaking cantons and urban areas supported the call for tighter advertising restrictions. A number of German-speaking cantons from central and eastern Switzerland were against the initiative.

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Grégoire Vittoz, director of the NGO Addiction Switzerland, said the result marked a “big step forward” in the fight against smoking in the Alpine nation, which is home to the world’s largest cigarette companies, Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco, and currently has some of the weakest laws against tobacco advertising in Europe.

“This is a clear message from the people to parliament that we don’t want the current legislation. We want to protect our children,” Vittoz told Swiss public television, RTS.

“The people have understood that health is more important than economic interests,” Stefanie de Borba of the League against Cancer told the AFP news agency.

Started young

Around one in four people in Switzerland smokesExternal link – a stable trend over the past decade – while the figure is slightly higher among 15- to 24-year-olds (31.7%). Research shows that most adult smokers (57%) began when they were minors.

The health and youth organisations behind the initiative convinced citizens to support a ban on all tobacco advertising that may reach young people in Switzerland, including those for electronic cigarettes.

Currently, tobacco advertising that directly targets minors in Switzerland is banned. Cigarette adverts in general are forbidden on television or radio. But in cinemas, public spaces, at festivals or on public transport, practices vary from region to region. And almost no cantons ban cigarette adverts in the written press or on the internet.

‘Goes too far’

Opponents of the initiative were disappointed with Sunday’s result.

“Today we talk about the cigarette, tomorrow it’ll be alcohol and meat. It annoys me to live in a society, which I call politically correct, where everything must be regulated,” Philippe Bauer, a senator from Neuchâtel, told RTS on Sunday.

Critics, who included the government, parliament and the advertising industry, argued unsuccessfully that the text was too extreme, an intrusion on economic freedoms and hard to implement in the digital age.

Instead of the “more radical” initiative, they had pushed for an indirect counter-proposal based on the new Tobacco Products Law, approved last October, which they said would have protected youngsters effectively while preserving economic interests.

The counter-proposal would have imposed tighter restrictions on tobacco products but would have still allowed advertising at points of sale such as kiosks, or in the press, on the internet and at national festivals (unless they were organised specially for minors).

St Gallen parliamentarian Mike Egger, who backed the counter-proposal, claimed the initiative supporters had run a “dirty campaign”. “In the counter-proposal we clearly have the minimum age of 18 stated…that's why I'm a bit disappointed that the initiators didn't withdraw their initiative.”

Insufficient counter-proposal

Health Minister Alain Berset told a press conference in Bern: "We must admit that the counter-proposal was not seen as sufficient."

According to the initiative text, only tobacco advertising directly targeting adults should be allowed, such as in magazines, leaflets, targeted emails and internet content designed for adults.

The federal authorities must now implement the new requirements of the initiative and adapt the Tobacco Products Law accordingly. 

Berset told reporters in Bern that the implementation must be done as fast as possible, but it was unlikely to be finished this year.

A draft law must still be drawn up, put forward for consultation and discussed in parliament. The adopted law must then be put forward for a facultative referendum.

"It seems really impossible to imagine that it will be implemented this year,” said Berset.

This will also be the occasion to discuss again future Swiss ratification of the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), said Berset.

Final results of February 13, 2022 votes

Ban on tobacco advertising                  56.6% Yes                43.4%No

State funding for private media            45.4% Yes                54.6% No

Ban on animal testing                          20.9% Yes                79.1% No

Stamp duty reform                               37.3% Yes                62.7% No

Turnout: 44.2.%

About 5.3 million Swiss citizens, including registered expat Swiss living around the globe, were eligible to take part.

The votes were the first in series of up to four nationwide ballots this year.

A series of votes at cantonal and local levels were also scheduled on February 13.

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