How the tobacco industry has ‘blocked Swiss public health policies’

Switzerland is doing far too little to rein in tobacco and nicotine use, and is especially lax on vaping rules, according to a commission report, which blamed hefty industry lobbying.

How the tobacco industry has 'blocked Swiss public health policies'
Photos: AFP

Several of the world's biggest tobacco companies, including Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco, have their global or regional headquarters in Switzerland.

“For decades, the tobacco industry has downplayed the harmful effects of its activity and has blocked Swiss public health policies,” the Federal Commission for the Prevention of Tobacco Use said in a report published Thursday.

The commission warned that industry pressure had left the country with watered-down regulations, especially for new electronic cigarettes, heated tobacco sticks and other and vaping products.

“We need a far more restrictive approach,” commission president Lucrezia Meier-Schatz told AFP Friday.

There is no age limit for purchasing such products, although several cantons are considering banning their sale to minors.

Their use is also permitted in closed public spaces, and they are not subjected to the same taxes and advertising restrictions as conventional cigarettes.

“These products need to be regulated exactly the same way as regular cigarettes,” Meier-Schatz said, insisting that industry claims that the new products are far safer than cigarettes were far from proven.

Switzerland, which also happens to be home to the World Health Organization, is meanwhile one of few countries that have yet to ratify the UN agency's global Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Meier-Schatz insisted industry lobbying was to blame.

“The tobacco industry pressure on the political sphere is enormous, and has until now managed to prevent the ratification of this convention,” she said.

The industry contributes about 6.3 billion Swiss francs ($6.4 billion, 5.8 billion euros) to the Swiss economy, or one percent of its gross domestic product, according to the Le Temps daily.

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No smoking? Swiss canton cracks down on employee cigarette breaks

From February 1st, 2020, government workers in the Swiss canton of Ticino will be required to punch a clock every time they want to have a cigarette.

No smoking? Swiss canton cracks down on employee cigarette breaks
Photo: Depositphotos

The move has been justified as a way of improving employee productivity, with proponents of the new law arguing that too much time is being lost to frequent employee cigarette breaks. 

Advocates also argue that non-smokers are penalised under the current system. 

Under the current law, employees are entitled to two 15-minute breaks per day. While employees will not need to punch the clock if they smoke during this time, all smoking outside these two break periods will be measured. 

The law will also see ashtrays removed from outside government buildings. 

The law will initially apply to the cantonal and governmental parliament buildings, but is set to be expanded to other government buildings throughout the canton in future. 

Fabio Badasci, from the Ticino League, said that the move was justified not only due to productivity concerns – but was needed in order to be fair to all workers. 

Badasci told Swiss news site Le Temps “continuous absences from work for smoking represent unequal treatment between smokers and non-smokers – and (result in) a loss of productivity”. 

Smoking has been forbidden in enclosed areas in Switzerland since 2010, although the country is still considered to be one of the most ‘smoke friendly’ in Europe. 

Swiss train stations only went smoke free in 2019, with the installation of airport-style smoking areas on many platforms. 

READ: Swiss train stations go 'smoke free' in 2019

An estimated 27 percent of Swiss residents smoke. 

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