An initial poll ahead of a nationwide vote on introducing a uniform smoking ban across Switzerland has shown there is considerable support for tighter rules to combat passive smoking.
The poll, commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, shows nearly 60 per cent of respondents backing the Lung League’s initiative (see graphic). Voters decide on the issue on September 23.
However Claude Longchamp, political scientist and head of the leading GfS Bern research and polling institute, expects increasing opposition against the initiative, particularly in certain regions of German-speaking Switzerland.
As a rule, support for initiatives usually drops as campaigning sets in.
“We are likely to see a change in public opinion on the subject, but it is not clear to what extent,” says political scientist Martina Imfeld.
She says most respondents have already made up their minds as rules on smoking are relevant for everyday life and many individuals are personally affected.
“The big question now is: What impact will a mobilisation campaign have on smokers?” says Imfeld.
Health versus federalism
Supporters of the initiative, including the main doctors’ association, trade unions and centre-left parties, stress the health hazards of passive smoking in the workplace.
They say minimum standards, approved by parliament four years ago, are not sufficient as they allow exceptions for smokers’ bars and special lounges in restaurants where the personnel work in an unhealthy environment.
Eighteen of the 26 cantons only apply minimum standards, while just eight cantons mostly in the French-speaking part of the country, have implemented an outright smoking ban in the workplace, including restaurants.
However, opponents, including the business community, most political parties and the government, have dismissed the initiative as prohibitionist and anti-federalist.
It’s up to the cantons with their constitutional autonomy to decide for themselves, and a political compromise struck in parliament must not be put at risk, say the opponents of the initiative.
Several attempts to tighten regulations at a cantonal level have been successful over the past few years.
Two other issues to be voted on – tax breaks for elderly home owners and the promotion of musical education – are expected to attract less public attention or spark controversy.
Supporters of the initiative, led by the Home Owner’s Association, at the moment are clearly ahead with 55 per cent of the expected vote, but experts warn the advantage will dwindle in the coming weeks.
The poll found that most political parties in parliament are not in tune with their grassroots and that the initiative, for the moment at least, enjoys considerable popularity.
“Supporters of the initiative have put forward strong arguments,” says Longchamp.
The campaigners argue the law presently punishes home owners who have paid off their mortgages as they can no longer claim tax deductions on debts. However, opponents have criticised that the proposal would offer unfair benefits for a privileged group of elderly tax payers.
It is the second time in eight years voters have the final say on the issue and the third ballot this year on financial incentives for home owners.
The proposal for a constitutional amendment to boost musical education in schools for its part is not facing major political obstacles.
Longchamp does not rule out opposition by the rightwing and parts of the centre-right making their case for the cherished autonomy of the cantons.
However, he doubts whether this argument will win the day. Longchamp says the difference between urban and rural regions has become more important than the specific political identities of the 26 cantons.
Turnout for the September vote is likely to be average. At the start of the campaign about 38 per cent of respondents in the opinion poll said they would take part in the ballot. The figure, however, is set to grow in the next few weeks.