Swiss Approve Ban on Tobacco Ads

ZURICH — Advertisements glamorizing cigarettes will soon be a thing of the past in Switzerland, after voters on Sunday overwhelmingly approved legislation forbidding tobacco companies from displaying them in public spaces.

Health advocates have said that the legislation, which was approved in a referendum, was a significant step toward tightening the country’s loose tobacco regulations.

“Many organizations have stepped up to the plate and advocated for a solution that prioritizes youth protection,” said Flavia Wasserfallen, a member of the Swiss National Council and a proponent of the initiative.

Across much of the West, tobacco advertisements long ago fell out of favor, but they have lived on in this Alpine nation, with displays for cigarettes and e-cigarettes showing up on billboards, in movie theaters 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 the government, the tougher regulations were approved by 56.6 percent of voters and received strong support from the country’s French- and Italian-speaking regions, despite having the country’s highest smoking rates.

Steps have been taken in recent years to try to introduce tougher 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 goods to minors as well as restrict advertising.

Parliament eventually approved a weakened version of the bill, which forbade the sale of tobacco to those under 18 but let advertising continue mostly unimpeded.

The most recent initiative was started by a group of more than 40 health organizations that formed in response to the weakening of the tobacco legislation. The revamped Tobacco Products Act, which includes the advertising-related provisions that voters approved on Sunday, is expected to come into effect in 2023.

“The majority of our country has decided to correct Parliament’s decision on the Tobacco Products Act,” Hans Stöckli, who serves as the president of the committee behind the initiative, said on Sunday. Mr. Stöckli described the result as “a historic milestone” and as “a necessary step” toward improved tobacco regulation.

Opponents of the measure called the tighter restrictions extreme. And while they agreed that tobacco should be age-restricted, they said that the new rules amounted to a de facto ban on a legal product because children could potentially be exposed to advertisements anywhere.

Switzerland has long had a close relationship 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 about 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 as some of the country’s leading exports.

Even after the new rules take effect, Switzerland will continue to have more liberal tobacco regulations than many other countries. And it will also still not fulfill all of the requirements needed to ratify the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an international response to combating the tobacco epidemic, despite signing it in 2004. The United States has also not ratified the convention.

Alain Berset, Switzerland’s vice president, who also serves as the country’s health minister, had opposed the initiative before the vote. But at a news conference on Sunday, he acknowledged that Swiss voters had spoken, and said that the government would move forward with the new regulations.

“The Federal Council will now tackle the implementation of the initiative,” Mr. Berset said.

The Tobacco Products Act was not the only issue on the ballot on Sunday. In a move that people feared could have cut Switzerland off from global medical progress, voters shot down a proposed ban on all human and animal experiments in the country.

Voters also decided against providing Swiss media outlets with increased financial support, by rejecting a government proposal to extend subsidies to online media as well as to regional radio and television stations.

A government-approved amendment to the federal stamp duties act that would have made it cheaper for companies to raise new capital was also rejected, with opponents saying it would have mainly benefited large companies.


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