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Tobacco, tax and animal testing: What’s at stake in Switzerland’s February referendum?

In the first vote of 2022, Swiss citizens will weigh in on four issues. This is what they are and why they matter to Switzerland.

Four issues are at stake in the November 13th referendum. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
Four issues are at stake in the November 13th referendum. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

In terms of the number of issues to be brought to the ballot box, 2022 is set to be a busy year for Swiss voters.

On February 13th, In the first of four rounds of voting to take place this year, citizens will have to decide on four issues. Here’s an explanation of what they entail:

“Yes to the ban on animal and human experiments” 

This initiative seeks to prohibit animal experiments, as well as the import of products that have been developed using animal testing.

Tests on human beings are also included in the initiative.

It also demands that research not involving animals should receive the same level of government funding as is currently provided for tests with animals.

If the initiative is accepted, no new medications, vaccines, or treatments for various diseases could be developed in Switzerland using animal experiments.

The action is spearheaded by dozens of animal protection groups, as well as representatives of Social Democrats and Green parties.

The government opposes this move, arguing that such a ban would entail major disadvantages. Humans and animals would no longer be able to benefit from many new medical advances. Also, research and development would be severely hampered and jobs in these fields would be threatened.

Will animal experiments be outlawed in Switzerland? Government photo /

READ MORE: How Switzerland’s direct democracy system works

“Yes to protecting children and young adults from tobacco advertising”

Advertising of tobacco products is permitted in Switzerland, though subject to certain restrictions. Such promotion aimed specifically at minors is, however, banned.

Most cantons have also introduced further bans, prohibiting tobacco advertising on billboards and in cinemas, or stopping tobacco companies from sponsoring events.

The initiative committee, which consists of cancer and pulmonary leagues, the Swiss Society for Public Health, pediatric associations, and other pro-health groups, seeks to prevent all tobacco advertising from reaching minors. The same rules would apply for electronic cigarettes.

The Federal Council and Parliament oppose the initiative, believing it goes too far. They have launched a counter-proposal in the form of the new Tobacco Products Act.

It would ban advertising of tobacco products and electronic cigarettes on billboards and in cinemas. In addition, tobacco companies would no longer be permitted to give away free cigarettes or to sponsor events in Switzerland. This legislation can come into force regardless of the outcome of the vote on November 13th.

“Amendment of the Federal Act on Stamp Duties”

When a company in Switzerland raises capital by issuing shares, the federal government levies a new issues tax (‘stamp  duty’), which amounts to 1 percent of the capital raised. The tax is only levied on amounts exceeding 1 million francs. As a rule, small businesses do not pay this tax; only medium-sized and large companies are subject to it.

The Federal Council and Parliament want to abolish the stamp duty to reduce investment costs, which will have a positive effect on economic growth and jobs.

While this move will result in a loss of 250 million francs annually, it would be “financially bearable”, the government said.

But according to opponents like trade unions and Social Democratic party, the main beneficiaries of the abolition of the stamp duty will be corporations, banks and insurance companies.

Average citizens, on the other hand, will gain nothing, while risking the loss of state benefits as the government will have less revenue in its coffers.

“Federal Act on a Package of Measures to Benefit the Media”

With less advertising income, Switzerland’s national and regional media are under financial pressure. This has a negative impact on society, as newspapers, radio and television stations, as well as online media provide the population with information and, according to the government, “bring social cohesion”.

Authorities want to offer subsidies to the media for a period of seven years, on condition that the media are aimed primarily at a Swiss audience and deal with a range of political, business and social topics “essential for direct democracy”.

Swiss news media could get funding from the government. Photo by Juliana Malta on Unsplash

Opponents, mainly from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, argue however that this would be a waste of public money and that the independence of the media would be undermined, as they would no longer dare to criticise “the hand that feeds them”, that is, the government.

READ MORE: A foreigner’s guide to understanding Swiss politics in five minutes

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Swiss vote on ‘Netflix’ law, organ donations and Frontex

Switzerland votes on Sunday on whether streaming services should cough up money to boost Swiss film-making -- and whether everyone should automatically become an organ donor unless they say otherwise.

Swiss vote on 'Netflix' law, organ donations and Frontex

Under the wealthy Alpine nation’s direct democracy system, voters are called to the polls four times a year to decide on specific topics, according to popular demand.

Besides streaming services and organ donation, the Swiss are voting on whether to join in the planned expansion of the European border agency Frontex, providing more money and staff to protect the continent’s Schengen
open-borders zone.

The polls close at midday (1000 GMT), with most ballots having already been sent in by post over the past four weeks.

Vote projections should come within an hour, with the results due later Sunday.

Lex Netflix
The so-called “Lex Netflix” vote is on an amendment to the Film Production Act adopted by parliament last October.

Since 2007, domestic television broadcasters have been obliged to invest four percent of their turnover in Swiss film-making.

The law change is intended to catch up with the dramatic shift in how audiovisual content is now consumed, with global streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+ and Blue now making hundreds of millions of dollars in
Switzerland each year.

Furthermore, the platforms will be required to ensure that European-made films or series make up at least 30 percent of the content available in Switzerland, as in the neighbouring European Union.

Right-leaning opponents collected enough signatures to take the change to a referendum.

If the challenge fails, streaming services would have to submit to the four-percent rule.

The referendum looks set to pass by a narrow margin, according to recent opinion polls, although opposition has been growing.

READ ALSO: What is the ‘Netflix vote’ and how could it change TV in Switzerland?

Transplant laws
The vote on changing the organ donation laws would see everyone become a potential donor after death unless they have expressly opted out.

Currently, transplants are only possible if the donor consented before they died.

The government and parliament want to change the law to a “presumed consent” model — as used in a number of other European countries.

Relatives would still have the right of refusal if they suspected that the deceased would not have wanted to be an organ donor.

A group of opponents, backed by the populist and religious right, gathered enough signatures to force a referendum.

Polls show around 60 percent support changing the law.

At the end of 2021, more than 1,400 patients were awaiting transplant organs in Switzerland, a country of around 8.6 million people. 

But 72 people died in 2021 while on the waiting list, according to the Swisstransplant organisation.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Switzerland’s ‘organ donation’ vote means for you

Ties between Brussels and Bern have been strained since May 2021 when non-EU Switzerland suddenly decided to end years of discussion towards a broad cooperation agreement with the bloc.

The Frontex vote could add to the unease.

Under Europe’s expansion plan, Frontex would have a permanent contingent of 10,000 border guards and coast guards.

Switzerland would nearly triple its financial contribution to Frontex to 61 million Swiss francs ($61 million, 58 million euros) annually.

Migrant support organisations, backed by left-leaning political parties, collected enough signatures to force a referendum.

The government has warned if voters reject the expansion, Switzerland risks automatic exclusion from the Schengen area.

Opinion polls indicate 69 percent of Swiss voters back expanding Frontex.

In February, the Swiss voted to tighten their notoriously lax tobacco laws by banning virtually all advertising of the hazardous products.

Voters also rejected banning all animal testing, and providing additional state funding to media companies.

READ ALSO: Frontex: How Switzerland’s ‘border vote’ on May 15th could impact travel