By Imogen Foulkes-BBC News, Bern
https://www.bbc.com/-Image source, Reuters
No-campaign posters have sprung up warning: “Today tobacco, tomorrow sausages?”
Swiss voters have backed a ban on tobacco advertising anywhere young people might see it.
In effect, the Yes vote in the nationwide referendum will lead to a complete ban.
The move will bring Switzerland into line with its European neighbours, most of whom adopted strict rules on tobacco advertising years ago.
Despite its healthy, environmentally friendly image, Switzerland has the most lax rules on tobacco in Europe.
Long after smoking in pubs and restaurants was outlawed in the UK, France, or Germany, the Swiss were still puffing away.
Supermarket shoppers would regularly be approached by smiling young women giving away free samples of the latest cigarette brand. And while those things were banned a few years ago, tobacco advertising remained.
Hailing Sunday’s result, Social Democrat member of parliament Flavia Wasserfallen paid tribute to the doctors’ and teachers’ associations who campaigned for the ban.
“People worked really hard for policy that puts young people at its heart,” she told Swiss television.
Why the delay?
The World Health Organization’s historic Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was negotiated in Geneva almost 20 years ago.
Switzerland signed it, but still has not ratified it – the only country in Europe not to – because its legislation on advertising was not, until Sunday’s vote, compliant.Compared with much of Europe, cigarettes here are cheap and 27% of Swiss adults smoke – higher than the European average.
Time and again legislation aimed at introducing tighter restrictions was rejected in parliament. And even after campaigners gathered enough signatures to force the referendum demanding a ban, the Swiss government recommended a No vote.
Those backing the ban say that is down to the presence of the world’s major tobacco companies here. Philip Morris, British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco all have their headquarters in Switzerland.
The tobacco industry is estimated to contribute over $6bn (£4.5bn; €5bn) a year, and 11,000 jobs, to the Swiss economy.
Just days before the vote it became clear – as many had suspected – that the tobacco companies had been funding the No campaign.
Opponents argued a ban on advertising a legal product was unacceptable, and that it would open the door to restrictions on other things, like sugar or alcohol, judged to be harmful to health.
Posters featuring some of Switzerland’s favourite foods – cake and sausages – appeared with the bleak warning “these will be next”.
But voters were less than impressed by the campaign.
Switzerland has 9,000 tobacco-related deaths each year and the cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses is a drain on the health system. It also pushes up the cost of health insurance, which everyone has to pay, whether they are a smoker or not.
Ahead of the vote, opinion polls suggested more than 60% would back the ban. In the end that was reduced to 56%, but still a clear majority.
“The people understood that health is more important than economic interests,” Stefanie de Borba of the Swiss League against Cancer told AFP news agency.
Three other decisions went before Swiss voters on Sunday as well: on banning all animal testing, on more financial subsidies for the media, and on ending stamp duty for equity capital. All three were rejected.
The animal testing was viewed as too limiting for Switzerland’s world class medical research and development sector.
The media subsidies were viewed by many voters as lining the pockets of media barons, while abolishing stamp duty would, voters thought, simply have made people who were already rich even richer.
These are complex subjects for voters to decide on, but that is how Switzerland’s system of direct democracy works.
There is rule of thumb about how voters should decide if they feel they do not understand the issues: take the government’s advice.
But on Sunday the government urged a yes to media subsidies, and lost. It urged a yes to abolishing the stamp duty and lost, and it urged a no to the ban on tobacco advertising, and lost.
Ministers may have to take some time to reflect on whether they are out of touch with voters.
But as for tobacco, as one Swiss commentator put it on Sunday: “In the choice between economic freedom and health, the majority of voters chose the latter… Whether it’s advertising bans, smoking bans or more expensive cigarettes, smoking no longer has a lobby among the people – unlike among the politicians.”