Anti-tobacco campaigners are urging Switzerland to ratify within two years a global treaty aimed at cutting the number of smoking-related deaths.This content was published on February 5, 2006 - 18:40
The appeal comes as the Geneva-based World Health Organization hosts its first meeting on Monday to assess progress on the anti-tobacco convention, which came into force a year ago.
The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) sets out strict deadlines for countries to ban tobacco advertising and slap bigger health warnings on cigarette packets.
Switzerland signed the convention in June 2004 but has yet to ratify it. The Federal Health Office says the country hopes to do so within the next five years, but the anti-tobacco lobby wants it done in half that time.
"We hope parliamentarians can clear the way for Switzerland to ratify this convention within the next two years," Jean-Charles Rielle, one of Switzerland's leading anti-tobacco campaigners, told swissinfo.
"The tobacco prevention lobby will be keeping a close eye on proceedings to ensure the delay is as short as possible."
Rielle, who is a member of the federal commission for tobacco prevention, said Switzerland's failure to ratify the convention was not down to a lack of political will, but rather the country's slow political process.
He said the cantons, the Federal Health Office and the Tobacco Prevention Association were working together to ensure ratification occurred as soon as possible.
"After years of lies, misinformation and quasi-mafia methods by cigarette manufacturers things have changed in Switzerland," he said.
"Tobacco prevention is now taken very seriously and measures are being introduced to protect non-smokers from passive smoking."
Switzerland has already introduced more prominent health warnings on cigarette packets and banned smoking on trains and buses. Moves to prohibit smoking in public places are gaining ground across the country.
Philippe Vallat, head of the national tobacco prevention programme within the Federal Health Office, told swissinfo that the authorities were moving as fast as they could but he warned that it could still be "a few years" before ratification of the treaty.
"Switzerland has signed the framework convention and has always declared its intention to ratify it," he told swissinfo.
"We need some legal adaptation on the federal level and we know this will take us some years, including maybe a popular vote on the advertising issue."
Marta Seoane, spokeswoman for the WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, said the treaty had been "widely embraced" despite the fact that 75 countries have yet to ratify it.
According to the WHO, 121 countries have ratified the convention and together they account for 74 per cent of global tobacco production.
Seoane added that there was no deadline for ratification but the WHO would be monitoring the situation to ensure countries that had signed the treaty followed the process through.
"When a country signs, as is the case with Switzerland, they are in a way committing themselves not to go against the principles that are in the treaty," said Seoane.
swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva
It is estimated there are 1.3 billion smokers in the world.
Of this number, 84% live in developing countries.
An estimated 4.9 million people die annually as a result of tobacco-related diseases.
There are around two million smokers in Switzerland.
About 8,000 people die from smoking-related illnesses in Switzerland each year, according to the Federal Health Office.
A clear majority of the Swiss population is in favour of smoke-free public buildings, according to a recent survey by Lausanne University.
Moves are underway in several regions of Switzerland to ban smoking in restaurants.
The Swiss Federal Railways introduced a smoking ban on trains last December.
Tobacco advertising has been outlawed in principle in the EU since August 2005, but there are no such nationwide restrictions in Switzerland.
An advertising ban is in place in Geneva, Basel City and Zug, while several other cantons are considering similar measures.
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