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Swiss vote on banning tobacco advertising and animal testing

The Swiss head to the polls Sunday to decide whether to ban almost all advertising of tobacco products and separately on a blanket ban on all animal testing.

tobacco advertising
Swiss vote on tobacco advertising ban. Photo: Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP

In-person voting on those and other topics will begin at 10:00 am, with polls due to close just
two hours later.

Since most people vote in advance by post, the final results were expected by late afternoon.

Recent polls indicate that the initiative to tighten Switzerland’s notoriously lax tobacco laws by banning all advertising of the health-hazardous products wherever minors might see it – effectively all settings – is the most likely to pass.

Switzerland lags far behind most wealthy nations in restricting tobacco advertising – a situation widely blamed on hefty lobbying by some of the world’s biggest tobacco companies headquartered in the country.

Currently, most tobacco advertising remains legal at a national level, except on television and radio, or ads that specifically target minors.

Some Swiss cantons have introduced stricter regional legislation and a new national law is pending, but campaigners gathered enough signatures to spur a vote towards a significantly tighter country-wide law.

‘Extreme’

Opponents of the initiative, which include the Swiss government and parliament, say it goes too far.

Philip Morris International (PMI), the world’s largest tobacco company, which, like British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco, is headquartered in Switzerland and which has helped fund the “No” campaign, described the initiative as “extreme”.

“This is a slippery slope as far as individual freedom is concerned,” a spokesman for PMI’s Swiss section told AFP, warning that it “paves the way for further advertising bans on products such as alcohol or sugar”.

Jean-Paul Humair, who heads a Geneva addiction prevention centre and serves as a spokesman for the “Yes” campaign, flatly rejected that comparison.

“There is no other consumer product that kills half of all users,” he told AFP.

Campaigners claim lax advertising laws have stymied efforts to bring down smoking rates in the Alpine nation of 8.6 million people, where more than a quarter of adults consume tobacco products.

There are around 9,500 tobacco-linked deaths each year.

The latest gfs.bern poll hinted that 63 percent of voters favoured the tobacco advertising ban, but it will also need backing from a majority of Switzerland’s 26 cantons to pass.

Animal testing

There is meanwhile little chance that a bid to ban all animal and human testing will go through, with only a quarter of those questioned in the latest survey backing the move.

All political parties, parliament and the government oppose it, warning it goes too far and would have dire consequences for medical research.

Switzerland has since 1985 rejected three similar initiatives by large margins.

Researchers insist medical progress is impossible without experimentation, and even the Swiss Animal Protection group has warned against the initiative’s “radical” demands.

Swiss authorities insist the country already has among the world’s strictest laws regulating animal testing.

As the laws have tightened, the number of animals used has fallen sharply in recent decades, from nearly two million per year in the early 1980s to around 560,000 today.

In another animal-themed vote, inhabitants in the northern Basel-Stadt canton will on Sunday decide whether non-human primates should be granted some of the same basic fundamental rights as their human cousins.

Among the other issues on Sunday’s slate, there will also be a national referendum on a new law aimed at providing additional state funding to media companies, which have seen their advertising revenues evaporate in recent years.

The government argues the extra funding could secure the survival of many small, regional papers in peril, and also assist with their costly digital transition.

But the latest poll indicates a win for the “No” campaign, backed by rightwing parties, who charge the subsidy would mainly benefit large media groups and would be a waste of public funds.

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HEALTH

Reader question: Are Brits in Switzerland still banned from donating blood?

For many years, people coming from the United Kingdom were banned from donating their blood in Switzerland. This is what the situation is right now.

Reader question: Are Brits in Switzerland still banned from donating blood?

The ‘blood ban’ that extended to British citizens or those of any nationality who had lived in the UK (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), was implemented for safety purposes.

The reason was the so-called mad cow disease (BSE), which was particularly rampant in Great Britain in the 1980s and 1990s.

Many people contracted and even died from the cattle-borne condition known scientifically as Creutzfeld-Jakob disease.

It is believed that one in 2,000 people in the UK is a carrier of the disease. 

While most of them got BSE from eating contaminated beef, “experience tells us that the disease could be transmitted from human to human via blood”, according to a BBC report.

As a result, a number of governments, including the Swiss, prohibited people from the UK to donate blood.

However, this rule is no longer in force in Switzerland.

According to Geneva’s university hospital (HUG), which is a member of the national blood transfusion network Blutspende and follows the same rules, only people who had lived in the UK between 1980 and 1996 for more than six months at a stretch still can’t donate blood.

This is a period when the BSE outbreak was at its worst in the UK.

If you had lived in Great Britain prior to or after that date, you can safely donate your blood.

Have there been any BSE cases in Switzerland?

About 465 cases had been reported in Switzerland between 1990 and 2020, with less than 20 deaths.

There are still isolated cases of BSE throughout Europe, but they are no longer a cause for as much concern as previously.

Can everyone donate blood in Switzerland?

Gay men are still not allowed to do so.

Under Swiss law, any man who has had sex with another man is prevented from donating blood for 12 months — the legislation was introduced during the the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, while the 12-month rule was introduced in 2017.

However, in March 2020, the National Council’s Commission for Social Security and Health said the rule was “no longer appropriate” and filed a motion to rescind it. 

READ MORE: Switzerland to clear way for gay and bisexual men to donate blood

Who else is prevented from donating blood?

According to Blutspende, these medical and other conditions disqualify people from donating blood in Switzerland:

  • Positive test for HIV (AIDS), syphilis, hepatitis C and hepatitis B
  • Prostitution
  • Past or present drug use by injection
  • Blood transfusion after 01.01.1980

These reasons could be a cause for deferral though not an outright ban:

  • Stay during the past six months in a region where malaria is endemic, without any health problem (in case of illness with fever, tell the doctor at the blood donation centre).
  • Suffering from a sexually transmitted disease during the past 12 months
  • Change of sexual partner during the past four months
  • Sexual intercourse with multiple partners during the past 12 months
  • Stay of six months or longer in the past 12 months in countries with a high HIV-prevalence

More information about blood donation in Switzerland can be found here.

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