ZURICH — Glamorous cigarette ads will soon be a thing of the past in Switzerland, after voters overwhelmingly approved legislation on Sunday banning tobacco companies from displaying them in public spaces.
Health advocates said the legislation, which was approved in a referendum, was an important step towards tightening the country’s regulations on loose tobacco.
“Many organizations have mobilized and advocated for a solution that prioritizes the protection of young people,” said Flavia Wasserfallen, member of the Swiss National Council and supporter of the initiative.
In much of the West, tobacco adverts have long fallen out of favor, but they have survived in this Alpine nation, with displays of cigarettes and e-cigarettes appearing on billboards, in cinemas and at events like music festivals.
But voters made it clear on Sunday that they were no longer interested in seeing them, and despite strong opposition from the tobacco industry and government, the tougher regulations were approved by 56.6% of voters and won received strong support from the country’s French and Italians. -languages, despite having the highest smoking rates in the country.
Steps have been taken in recent years to try to introduce stricter regulations on tobacco-related products in Switzerland. In 2015, the Federal Council, the country’s executive branch, proposed a Tobacco Products Act that would ban the sale of tobacco and related products to minors and restrict advertising.
Parliament eventually approved a watered down version of the bill, which banned the sale of tobacco to those under 18 but allowed advertising to continue almost unhindered.
The most recent initiative was launched by a group of more than 40 health organizations that formed in response to weakening tobacco laws. The new Tobacco Products Act, which includes the advertising provisions that voters approved on Sunday, is expected to come into force in 2023.
“The majority of our country has decided to correct Parliament’s decision on the Tobacco Products Act,” said Hans Stöckli, chairman of the committee behind the initiative, on Sunday. Mr Stöckli described the result as “a historic step” and a “necessary step” towards better tobacco regulation.
Opponents of the measure called the tighter restrictions extreme. And while they agreed tobacco should be age-restricted, they said the new rules amounted to a de facto ban on a legal product because children could potentially be exposed to n anywhere.
Switzerland has long maintained close relations with the tobacco industry. Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco International have their international headquarters in the country, and British American Tobacco also has a strong presence.
The industry employs around 4,500 people in Switzerland, according to the government, including in the production of high-tar cigarettes that are illegal to produce or sell in the European Union. Cigarettes rank with chocolate and cheese among the main export products of the country.
Even after the new rules come into force, Switzerland will continue to have more liberal tobacco regulations than many other countries. And it also still won’t meet all of the requirements needed to ratify the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an international response to tackling the tobacco epidemic, despite signing it in 2004. The United States has not ratified the convention either.
Alain Berset, Swiss vice-president, who is also the country’s health minister, had opposed the initiative before the vote. But at a press conference on Sunday, he acknowledged that Swiss voters had spoken and said the government would move forward with the new regulations.
“The Federal Council will now tackle the implementation of the initiative,” Berset said.
The Tobacco Products Act was not the only issue of the ballot on Sunday. In a move people feared had cut Switzerland off from global medical progress, voters rejected a proposal to ban all human and animal experiments in the country.
Voters also decided against giving Swiss media more financial support, rejecting a government proposal to extend subsidies to online media as well as regional radio and TV stations.
A government-approved amendment to the federal stamp duty law that would have made it cheaper for companies to raise new capital was also rejected, with opponents saying it would have mainly benefited big business.