Support for a proposal that would restrict smoking in special bars or lounges has plunged ahead of a national vote on September 23. However, a survey found public opinion more evenly split on proposed tax breaks for elderly homeowners.
An initiative by health organisations calling for unified legislation across Switzerland to protect against second-hand smoke at indoor work places appears to have lost backing among citizens. An opinion poll commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation says opponents are more than ten per cent ahead (see graphic on the bottom right of the page).
“Even an increasing number of non-smokers and occasional smokers said they would vote against a ban on special cafes,” says political scientist Martina Imfeld of the GfS Bern research and polling institute.
However, she says voter interest remains limited despite a public campaign by both supporters and opponents using posters and newspaper adverts and despite broad media coverage of the issue.
The 18 per cent drop in support for the initiative is due to a single striking argument brought forward by the business community, representatives of the restaurant sector and most centrist and rightwing political parties.
“Opponents successfully stressed that the proposal is going too far in their opinion, imposing strict nationwide legislation only two years after parliament approved a compromise solution,” says GfS Bern director Claude Longchamp.
Eighteen of the country’s 26 cantons presently allow exceptions to a smoking ban in work places, notably allowing smoking in special lounges with waiter service and in small cafes and bars.
The massive decline in support over the past four weeks sounds the death knell for an initiative which once seemed to enjoy a certain popularity among the public, according to Longchamp.
“The main arguments of the supporters of stricter anti-smoking rules fell on deaf ears. Opponents identified the weak spot of the initiative.”
The Lung League, which is spearheading the initiative, called for better protection of waiters and other personnel in the restaurant business nationwide.
The group repeatedly criticised that opponents were spreading false information on the aims of the initiative, notably that restaurants in cantons with strict anti-smoking regulations suffered a decline in guests or that smoker’s lounges without waiter service were also targeted.
An initiative by a leading pressure group to grant tax breaks to elderly home owners has also lost backing, according to the latest opinion poll.
However, researchers say it is too early to call the result.
“The outcome of the vote is still open,” says Longchamp. He points out that many respondents of the poll, in an apparent contradiction, find the arguments of the homeowners' association convincing.
However, they appear to prefer the legal status quo which does not favour a particular group of homeowners.
The initiative has the backing of the Association of Small and Medium-sized Entreprises and the right-wing Swiss People’s Party. All other parties, the trade unions, the cantons as well the government have come out against it.
A proposal to boost the promotion of musical education is expected to win a clear majority at the ballot box on September 23. It is challenged only by the People’s Party and the centre-right Radicals, mainly for federalist motives. But neither of them mounted a notable campaign.
Researchers expect voter turnout to be below the average of 45 per cent on September 23 as not even the proposed tightening of anti-smoking regulations appears enough to drive passionate smokers to the ballot boxes.
The SBC Poll
The pollsters interviewed 1,404 Swiss citizens from across the country for the second of two nationwide surveys ahead of the September 23 vote.
Swiss expatriates are not included in the poll.
The telephone interviews took place three weeks ahead of voting day and one month after the first survey.
The margin of error is 2.7 per cent.
The survey was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo.ch’s parent company, and was carried out by the leading GfS Bern research and polling institute.end of infobox
What's at stake?
Three main issues will be decided in the nationwide votes:
Stricter anti-smoking rules at the workplace, particularly in the restaurant sector; tax breaks for retired home owners; and a plan to boost the promotion of musical education.
Ballots are also scheduled in several cantons on a variety of issues.
Voters have had the final say on more than 560 different initiatives since 1848. Most proposals have been rejected in the history of modern-day Switzerland.end of infobox