Federal Health Office launches new anti-smoking campaign

Switzerland lags behind Europe in anti-smoking policies

"Smoking is harmful" is the slogan for the Federal Health Office's latest tobacco prevention programme. The programme, announced on Wednesday, will run for five years and aims to heighten awareness among all sectors of society about the dangers of smoking.

This content was published on May 9, 2001 minutes

The campaign, which was developed with the help of the Swiss Association for Smoking Prevention and the Swiss Cancer League, includes a series of television advertisements and a web site which offers tips and guidance on how to stop smoking.

The Federal Health Office estimates that around 8,000 people die each year in Switzerland as a result of smoking-related illnesses - over 20 people every day. Thomas Zeltner, director of the health office, acknowledged that Switzerland had lagged behind its European neighbours in promoting anti-smoking policies.

"There's no doubt whatsoever that we have been slow," said Zeltner. "And we can see the results now; we have the highest number of smokers in western Europe, only Poland, Hungary, and Greece are ahead of us."

But the message that smoking is bad for you is not exactly new. For several years the tobacco companies themselves have been forced to include this warning in their own advertising.

The Federal Health Office is famous for its hard hitting Stop Aids campaigns, and many observers of the new anti-smoking programme will wonder why it too is not more up front with its message.

"We want to deal in facts and not emotions,' said Zeltner. "We spent a very long time discussing the content of our campaign, and looking at what had worked and not worked in other countries. And we came to the conclusion that a cool hard look at the facts about the dangers of smoking was the best approach."

The three television advertisements are an understated but thought-provoking attempt to bring home the dangers of smoking. One film, for example, pans slowly across a typical office while the telephone rings, but no one answers because the seat behind the desk is empty. "Smoking is.bad for you" reads the slogan along the bottom of the screen.

The Swiss Association for Smoking Prevention has long wanted a national anti-smoking campaign in Switzerland, and joined the Federal Health Office in the development of this one. Director of the Association, Verena El Fehri, found the television advertisements subtle but effective.

"If we were to show horror pictures of cancerous lungs or something like that people would just shut their eyes," said Fehri. "But with these films I think they will pay attention and really think about the message."

Fehri also answered criticism that the new campaign did not address young people who might be thinking of starting to smoke.

"These television spots are quite consciously not aimed at young people," said Fehri. "We already do plenty of things in schools aimed at preventing young people from smoking. But these advertisements are for adults who already smoke; these are the people we need to reach."

The next step for the Federal Health Office is a more detailed national policy on tobacco and smoking prevention. Zeltner pointed out that in the past such policies in Switzerland have been isolated and somewhat haphazard.

"We cannot really say we have had a lot of success," said Zeltner. "It's true we had a couple of good projects in the past, but they certainly did not reach the prevention goals we wanted."

The Federal Office has put forward proposals to the Swiss government on a national smoking prevention policy. The proposals are expected to be discussed at a cabinet meeting in the next few weeks.

by Imogen Foulkes

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