GENEVA: The Swiss voted on Sunday to tighten their notoriously lax tobacco laws by banning virtually all advertising of the hazardous products.

Nearly 57 per cent of voters and 16 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons backed the near-total tobacco advertising ban, a final tally of votes showed.

“We are extremely happy. The people understood that health is more important than economic interests,” Stefanie De Borba of the Swiss League against Cancer, said as the results became clear.

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 is legal at a national level, except for ads on television and radio, and ones that specifically target minors.

Some Swiss cantons have introduced stricter regional legislation and a new national law is pending but the campaigners who forced the issue to a vote under Switzerland’s direct democracy system demanded far tighter rules.

Opponents of the initiative, which include the Swiss government and parliament, had argued that it goes too far. “Today we are talking about cigarettes, but we will soon be talking about alcohol and meat,” warned Philippe Bauer, a parliamentarian with the rightwing Liberal Party.

“It annoys me to live in a society... with this dictatorship of the politically correct, where everything has to be regulated,” he told the RTS broadcaster.

His concerns echo those voiced by Philip Morris International (PMI), the world’s largest tobacco company, which, like British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco, is headquartered in Switzerland and has helped fund the “No” campaign.

“This is a slippery slope as far as individual freedom is concerned,” a spokesman for PMI’s Swiss section said, decrying Sunday’s result.

When drafting the decision into law, he urged parliament to do so with “moderation and measure”, and ensure advertising directed at adults will remain legal.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2022

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