The cantonal government this week approved raising the maximum financial penalty to 60,000 francs, up from the previous maximum of 1,000 francs.
“We realize that certain establishments don’t care at all about the law banning smoking,” said Pierre-François Unger, Geneva health minister, in defending the new get-tough policy, the Tribune de Genève reported.
A handful of nightclubs, in particular, have openly violated the smoking ban with employees lighting up as well as customers.
The Java Club, a popular hangout for young people in the Hotel Kempinski, became the focus of controversy earlier this year over reports that it habitually allowed patrons to smoke.
The canton introduced a law in July 1, 2008 banning smoking in enclosed public places, including bars and restaurants.
The law followed an initiative supported by 80 percent of Geneva voters.
But some restaurant and nightclub operators have been reluctant to accept the regulations.
The changes approved by the government will not only boost the fines but will use the arsenal of measures available under the legislation covering restaurants and bars.
These include suspensions, closures and refusal to authorize permits for recalcitrant businesses.
“We are targetting mainly the managers of establishments open to the public who violate the law repeatedly, consciously and voluntarily,” Unger is quoted as saying.
He added that these managers “were happily rare”.
Unger said the new penalties are more dissuasive and should be more effective in tackling the issue.
Bar and restaurant owners have generally welcomed the tougher approach.
However, a pro-smoking group called the Dissidents de Genève denounced the regulations as “intolerable”.
Geneva’s legislation is designed to protect workers, residents and visitors from the health impacts of second-hand smoke.
It is one of the cantons with the strongest such laws, but nationally Switzerland still lags behind other European countries when it comes to smoking bans in public places.
Last year, two-thirds of Swiss voters rejected an initiative to tighten national regulations.
That left minimal federal requirements in place that allow for smoking in restaurants, nightclubs and “fumoirs”, or smoking rooms, unless otherwise specified by individual cantons.