GENEVA: The Swiss voted yesterday to tighten their notoriously lax tobacco laws by banning virtually all advertising of the hazardous products, partial results showed. Nearly 56 percent of voters and 15 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons backed the near-total tobacco advertising ban, according to official results after all ballots had been tallied in 22 cantons. “We are extremely happy,” Stefanie De Borba of the Swiss League against Cancer, told AFP as the results became clear. “The people have understood that health is more important than economic interests.”
Switzerland lags far behind most wealthy nations in restricting tobacco advertising-a situation widely blamed on hefty lobbying by some of the world’s biggest tobacco companies headquartered in the country. Currently, most tobacco advertising is legal at a national level, except for ads on television and radio, and ones that specifically target minors. Some Swiss cantons have introduced stricter regional legislation and a new national law is pending but campaigners gathered enough signatures to spur a vote towards a significantly tighter country-wide law.
‘Kills half of all users’
Opponents of the initiative, which include the Swiss government and parliament, had argued that it goes too far. “This initiative is extreme,” said Patrick Eperon, a lobbyist with an employer organization and a spokesman for the “No” campaign. By banning basically all tobacco advertising in the name of protecting children, “it infantilises adults”, he told AFP before the vote.
His concerns echo those voiced by Philip Morris International (PMI), the world’s largest tobacco company, which, like British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco, is headquartered in Switzerland and has helped fund the “No” campaign. “This is a slippery slope as far as individual freedom is concerned,” a spokesman for PMI’s Swiss section told AFP.
“(It) paves the way for further advertising bans on products such as alcohol or sugar,” he said. Jean-Paul Humair, who heads a Geneva addiction prevention centre and serves as a spokesman for the “Yes” campaign, flatly rejected that comparison. “There is no other consumer product that kills half of all users,” he told AFP. Campaigners say lax advertising laws have stymied efforts to bring down smoking rates in the Alpine nation of 8.6 million people, where more than a quarter of adults consume tobacco products. There are around 9,500 tobacco-linked deaths each year.
While they backed the effort to ban most tobacco advertising, Swiss voters were not convinced by a number of other issues on the ballot as part of the country’s direct democratic system. Partial results showed they had flatly rejected a bid for a blanket ban on all animal testing, with nearly 80 percent opposed. All political parties, parliament and the government had opposed the initiative, arguing it went too far and would have dire consequences for medical research.
Switzerland has rejected three similar initiatives by large margins since 1985. Researchers say medical progress is impossible without experimentation, and even the Swiss Animal Protection group has warned against the initiative’s “radical” demands. Swiss authorities say the country already has among the world’s strictest laws regulating animal testing. As the laws have tightened, the number of animals used has fallen in recent decades, from nearly two million per year in the early 1980s to around 560,000 today.
In another animal-themed vote, first results indicated that inhabitants in the northern Basel-Stadt canton have massively rejected a bid to afford non-human primates some of the same basic fundamental rights as their human cousins, with over 75 percent opposed. Among the other issues yesterday’s slate, partial results also showed that some 56 percent of voters had rejected a government plan to provide additional state funding to media companies, which have seen their advertising revenues evaporate in recent years.- AFP