SHARE
COPY LINK

REFERENDUM

Swiss enflamed over divisive smoking vote

Switzerland is deeply divided ahead of a vote Sunday on whether to beef up a ban on smoking in indoor workplaces and public spaces, with supporters stressing the health benefits of less second-hand smoke and opponents decrying a "witch-hunt".

Swiss enflamed over divisive smoking vote
Photo: Darko Skender

Sitting on the terrace of a Geneva cafe, enjoying a smoke in the early autumn sun, court clerk Isabelle Calapez told AFP she was "totally opposed" to
the expanded ban.

"They have already banned us from smoking in public places. Soon they will even ban us from smoking in our apartments," she said.

And she is not alone.

While opinion polls long showed majority support for the expanded ban, which would send several significant exceptions up in smoke, the latest survey, published last week, showed 52 percent of those questioned opposed the initiative against 41 percent in favour and seven percent undecided.

To outsiders, the issue may seem a bit confusing: Switzerland introduced a federal ban on smoking in indoor workplaces and public spaces more than two years ago.

However, that ban allows for a number of exceptions and has been applied unevenly in Switzerland's 26 cantons.

While eight cantons, including Geneva, already have a total ban on indoor smoking in places of employment, like restaurants and bars, and public spaces, like hospitals, the remaining 18 cantons apply the law less restrictively.

"Sunday, September 23rd, the Swiss will vote to standardize across Switzerland what is already the norm in eight cantons: a total protection against second-hand smoke in closed environments," Jean-Charles Rielle, a physician and a member of the committee behind the proposal, told AFP.

The Swiss Pulmonary League launched the initiative mainly to clear up all the confusion, he said, insisting it was not opposed to outdoor smoking or smoking in private spaces.

Supporters of the beefed-up ban also point to the health benefits of a yes vote on Sunday.

Working an eight-hour shift in a smoke-filled establishment is equivalent to smoking between 15 and 38 cigarettes, the proposal's supporters say, pointing to a World Health Organization study revealing that second-hand smoke kills upward of 600,000 people every year.

"In the cantons where these laws (banning smoking rooms) are already in effect, we saw immediately … a quick 20-percent drop in hospitalisation due to cardiovascular incidents, heart attacks and these kinds of problems," Rielle said.

But some businesses feel "any additional attempt" to push through tougher smoking laws "is a witch-hunt, a hygienism pushed to extremes", according to Laurent Terlinchamp, president of Geneva's association of cafe owners, restaurateurs and hoteliers.

"In Geneva, where the law came in two years ago, we were told that a new clientele would start to come back to establishments," he said. "But it's not the case today because profits are down 10 percent to 30 percent depending on the type of business."

Whatever the outcome of Sunday's vote, some smokers have found a solution to the current restrictions by joining members-only bars where there are no restrictions on lighting up.

The idea has caught on in Basel, Zurich and also Geneva, where the newly formed Speakeasy association asks a 450 franc membership fee.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

REFERENDUM

Swiss decision to purchase US fighter jets could force second referendum

Switzerland's decision to purchase US-made fighter jets could be put to a referendum,

Swiss decision to purchase US fighter jets could force second referendum
Swiss fighter jets. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

Switzerland’s government on Wednesday backed the purchase of 36 F-35A fighter jets from Lockheed Martin to replace its fleet and five Patriot air defence units from fellow US manufacturer Raytheon.

Switzerland’s current air defence equipment will reach the end of its service life in 2030 and has been undergoing a long and hotly-contested search for replacements.

“The Federal Council is confident that these two systems are the most suitable for protecting the Swiss population from air threats in the future,” the government said in a statement.

‘No Trump fighter jets’: Swiss don’t want to buy American planes

The decision will now be put to the Swiss parliament — and also risks being challenged at the ballot box, with left-wingers and an anti-militarist group looking to garner enough signatures to trigger a public vote.

The F-35A was chosen ahead of the Airbus Eurofighter; the F/A-18 Super Hornet by Boeing; and French firm Dassault’s Rafale.

For the ground-based air defence (GBAD) system, Patriot was selected ahead of SAMP/T by France’s Eurosam.

“An evaluation has revealed that these two systems offer the highest overall benefit at the lowest overall cost,” the government statement said. Switzerland is famously neutral. However, its long-standing position is one of armed neutrality and the landlocked European country has mandatory conscription for men.

“A fleet of 36 aircraft would be large enough to cover Switzerland’s airspace protection needs over the longer term in a prolonged situation of heightened tensions,” the government said.

“The air force must be able to ensure that Swiss airspace cannot be used by foreign parties in a military conflict.” 

Long path to decision 

Switzerland began to seek replacements for its ageing fleet of fighter jets more than a decade ago, but the issue has become caught up in a political battle in the wealthy Alpine nation.

The Swiss government has long argued for the need to quickly replace its 30 or so F/A-18 Hornets, which will reach the end of their lifespan in 2030, and the F-5 Tigers, which have been in service for four decades and are not equipped for night flights.

In 2014, the country looked set to purchase 22 Gripen E fighter jets from Swedish group Saab, only to see the public vote against releasing the funds needed to go forward with the multi-billion-dollar deal.

Bern launched a new selection process four years later, and a referendum last year to release six billion Swiss francs ($6.5 billion) for the purchase of the fighters of the government’s choice squeezed through with 50.1 percent of voters in favour.

During the referendum campaign, the government warned that without a swift replacement for its fleet, “Switzerland will no longer be in a position to protect and even less defend its airspace by 2030”.

Currently, the fleet does not have the capacity to support ground troops for reconnaissance missions or to intervene against ground targets.

Meanwhile Switzerland’s current GBAD system is also old and lacks the capacity to meet the widening spectrum of modern threats.

The military currently relies on a range of Rapier and Stinger short-range missiles that have been in service since 1963.

SHOW COMMENTS