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Swiss parliament rejects tobacco advertising ban

According to a study published by the Swiss federal office of public health last December1, two thirds of the Swiss public were in favour of banning tobacco advertising, everywhere except at the point of sale. 58% were even in favour of a blanket ban, while one in six wanted to see cigarette price increases. Switzerland’s parliament does not appear to share this view.

A plan put forward by Federal Councillor Alain Berset to restrict tobacco advertising was rejected by parliament today by 101 votes to 75. Those against the plan think it went too far and said there was nothing that proved that banning advertising would reduce tobacco consumption. In addition, they thought a federal ban limited the power of cantons to introduce stricter rules.

A 2013 World Health Organisation report2 said “complete bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship decrease tobacco use”. The WHO report also said that the best estimate is that the tobacco industry spends tens of billions of US dollars worldwide each year on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. In the United States alone, the tobacco industry spends more than US$ 10 billion annually.

Berset’s proposed rules would have banned advertising in public spaces, in cinemas, in the press and on the internet. Distribution of free samples and some promotional price reductions would have also been banned. According to a WHO report these practices are banned in Spain, France, Sweden, Holland, Portugal, the UK and a number of other European countries, but not Switzerland.

Corine Kibora, spokesperson for Addiction Suisse described parliament’s decision as “disappointing” and “proof that the arguments of lobbyists and the economy triumphed over the public’s health”, while adding that as the trend towards favouring individual choice over collective responsibility takes over we seem to have forgotten the central point: business and advertisers are driven to make sales.

According to Swiss federal office of public health, Swiss smokers dropped from 33% of the population in 2001 to 25% in 2015. However, since 2011, the number of smokers has stayed stubbornly high. In addition, it calculates the annual cost of tobacco at tens of billions of francs per year of which CHF 1.7 billion goes on medical treatments and CHF 3.9 billion on compensation for work absenteeism and invalidity. On the other hand, tobacco tax only brings in CHF 2 billion annually.

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