Dragging on - the struggle to ban smoking in Switzerland

smoking banBerne, Switzerland- The land of health spas, muesli and mountain
air, Switzerland remains one of the last havens for smokers in Europe
and there is a powerful restaurant and hotel lobby set on keeping it
that way.

However, while the smoker still holds sway in many restaurants and
bars across most of the country the non-smoker is breaking out of his

So far laws have been brought in piecemeal regionally. Six out of
26 cantons have introduced laws to curb passive smoking with others
planning to follow.

Two have gone for a total ban; Ticino being the first in April
2007, inspired by its neighbour Italy, followed by Geneva where
measures come into force on July 1.

Smoking is estimated to kill around 1,000 people in Switzerland a year, a fifth of them non-smokers.

Now the federal government is working on countrywide legislation
which would bring it into line with much of Europe. Some 18 European
countries have now brought in laws after Ireland set the ball rolling
in 2004.

According to government figures for 2007, around a third of Swiss
smoke. They cost the economy an estimated 5 billion francs (4.94
billion dollars) a year in medical bills, absenteeism, invalidity and
premature deaths. An extra half a billion is added to that for
secondary smokers.

The Federal Public Health Department says most secondary smoking
takes place in restaurants and bars. Three out of four non-smokers want
a total ban and 40 per cent of smokers.

The hotel and restaurant federation, GastroSuisse has challenged
that. It represents 20,000 establishments throughout Switzerland and
says its own recent survey of 500 people showed 77 per cent of people
support a smoking area in restaurants.

Director Florian Hew said health fanatics were only too eager to
promote the idea that the Swiss were massively against smoking in
restaurants and cafes.

He said: "We defend the freedom for our members to make up their own minds on their policy about smoking."

Others are opposed to an outright ban. Toni Bortoluzzi, a member of
the rightwing Swiss People's Party, says its wrong to ban a legal

"The state interferes in private affairs when it defines the rules
of tobacco consumption in a privately-owned restaurant or a bar," he
said in an interview.

One bar owner in Berne, a confirmed smoker himself, but who has
banned smoking ahead of any government action, said smoking in public
places would soon be viewed like smoking on aircraft.

"In a few years we will think it was absurd that we ever allowed smoking in an enclosed space."

GastroSuisse has lobbied hard for a law allowing all-smoking
establishments alongside non-smoking venues so customers can make their
own choice. It is something parliament has resisted so far.

But the government appears to be looking for compromises. The
employees, it is seeking to protect in the workplace, may yet still be
exposed to secondary smoking. The government is currently leaning away
from separate non-serviced smoking areas to fully-staffed zones in
restaurants or bars.

The Federal Public Health Department fears weaker national
legislation could be on the cards which might even cut across stricter
cantonal laws.

Such a move would bring Switzerland into conflict with the World
Health Organization's anti-smoking convention, ruling out smoking areas
completely, which the Swiss have signed but not ratified.

While the restaurant lobby strives to influence federal law,
smoking bans are nonetheless gathering momentum. The cantons, spurred
on by popular opinion, appear to be pushing the pace and riding
roughshod over any opposition. (dpa)