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Long after neighbors, Swiss approve of tobacco ad ban

Swiss voters backed a ban of tobacco advertising where young people might see.

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Long after neighbors, Swiss approve of tobacco ad ban

The Yes vote in the nationwide referendum will result in a total ban.

This will align Switzerland with its European neighbors, many of which have adopted strict rules regarding tobacco advertising over years.

Despite its positive image and being a healthy country, Switzerland is the least restrictive European country when it comes to tobacco.

The Swiss continued to smoke long after the ban on smoking in restaurants and pubs was lifted in the UK, France and Germany.

Smiling young women would often approach supermarket shoppers offering free samples of the latest brand. These things were banned some years back, but tobacco advertising was still allowed.

Flavia Wasserfallen, a Social Democrat member in parliament, hailed Sunday's results and paid tribute to teachers' and doctors' associations that fought for the ban.

She said that "people worked really hard to make policy that places young people at the heart of it," she told Swiss television.

Why is it taking so long?

Nearly 20 years ago, the historic Framework Convention on Tobacco Control of the World Health Organization was signed in Geneva.

Switzerland signed the agreement, but has yet to ratify it. This is because Switzerland's advertising legislation was not compliant until Sunday's vote.

Cigarettes in Switzerland are cheaper than elsewhere in Europe. 27% of Swiss adults smoke cigarettes, which is higher than the European average.

Every time legislation was introduced to tighten restrictions, it was repeatedly rejected by parliament. Even though campaigners had collected enough signatures to force a referendum calling for a ban on the issue, the Swiss government recommended that a No vote be held.

The ban is supported by those who believe it is due to the presence of major tobacco companies in Switzerland. The headquarters of Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, and Japan Tobacco are all located in Switzerland.

The Swiss economy is expected to receive over $6bn in tobacco industry revenue (PS4.5bn, EUR5bn), and 11,000 jobs.

Influence on the business world

It was revealed that the No campaign had been funded by tobacco companies just days before the vote.

Opponents claimed that a ban on the advertising of legal products was unacceptable and would lead to restrictions on other items, such as sugar or alcohol, which could be considered harmful to health.

Posters featuring the most popular foods in Switzerland - sausages and cake - were displayed with the grim warning that "these will soon be next".

However, the campaign was not well received by voters.

There are 9,000 deaths from tobacco-related causes in Switzerland each year. The health system is also affected by the high cost of treating these illnesses. This increases the cost of insurance that everyone must pay, regardless of whether they smoke or not.

Opinion polls indicated that more than 60% of respondents would support the ban. This was ultimately reduced to 56% but it still represents a large majority.

Stefanie De Borba, from the Swiss League against Cancer, stated that "the people understood that health was more important than economic interest," to AFP.

On Sunday, three other decisions were made by Swiss voters: banning animal testing, increasing financial support for media and ending stamp duty on equity capital. All three of these were rejected.

Animal testing was considered too restrictive for Switzerland's top-tier medical research and development.

Many voters viewed media subsidies as being in the pockets of media barons. Abolishing stamp duty would, however, have simply made those already wealthy even more rich.

These are difficult topics for voters to choose on but that's how Switzerland's direct democracy system works.

If voters feel that they don't understand the issue, there is a rule of thumb: Follow the advice of the government.

On Sunday, however, the government demanded media subsidies be allowed. It called for the abolishment of the stamp duty, but lost. The government also urged against the ban on tobacco advertising.

Ministers might need to reflect on their relationship with voters.

As for tobacco, a Swiss commentator said on Sunday that "in the choice between economic liberty and health, most voters chose the former..." Smoking is no longer a popular choice, whether it's bans on advertising, smoking, or more expensive cigarettes. This is unlike the case with politicians.

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