Switzerland will have to wait five years before ratifying a global anti-smoking treaty that came into force on Sunday, as it waits for legislative changes.
The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) believes the anti-tobacco convention could save millions of lives around the world.
The WHO says the first international public health treaty will dissuade children from smoking and help adults kick the habit through strong warnings on cigarette packages and bans on tobacco advertising and sponsorship.
"I encourage all countries to implement the range of measures that will make the use of tobacco less and less attractive," said WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook.
The treaty, known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, gives members three years to slap strong health warnings on tobacco packages and five years to ban advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
It also recommends tax increases on tobacco products, a crackdown on smuggling, and reducing exposure to second-hand smoke.
Switzerland signed the treaty last year, but has to modify its laws before it can consider ratifying it.
"We have to change the rules on advertising, sales to children and increase protection against passive smoking," said Philippe Vallat of the Federal Health Office.
Switzerland’s law on foodstuffs will have to be adapted, but the revision process is not expected to start before next year.
Vallat reckons talks will drag on, especially because of resistance from the advertising industry.
"It’s hard to say when a revised law will be approved, but we will ratify the WHO convention in 2010 at the earliest," he said.
But the authorities are not waiting for the treaty’s ratification to take some action. The government is expected to table a report on passive smoking by the middle of the year.
The ordinance on tobacco was also modified in 2004.
Cigarette packets are to carry more prominent health warnings after the government agreed to bring Switzerland into line with other European countries.
The warnings will be carried in the three official languages – German, French and Italian.
They will appear on the front of each packet in large, black letters and take up a third of the space. Another warning will occupy 50 per cent of the back of each packet.
Terms such as "light" and "mild" will be banned from tobacco products as part of a drive to remind the public of the dangers of smoking.
Manufacturers have until the middle of next year to adjust cigarette packets, and 30 months for other tobacco products. This is to give them time to sell existing stock.
Switzerland still remains a smokers’ paradise, with few limits on lighting up in public places. But the authorities have warned that they want to toughen the rules on where people can smoke.
The price of a packet of cigarettes, which was raised in 2004 by 50 centimes to SFr5.80 ($5.00), is lower than in many other European countries.
swissinfo with agencies
Tobacco, the second leading cause of preventable deaths globally after hypertension, kills 4.9 million people a year.
The annual death toll from tobacco-related diseases could soar to 10 million by 2020.
In Switzerland, 8,300 premature deaths are attributed to smoking every year.
One in three Swiss between the ages of 14 and 65 smoke.
Smoking generates costs of around SFr5 billion due to sickness and loss of productivity.
Approved by the WHO's 192 member states in May 2003, the pact came into force on Sunday, 90 days after the trigger of the 40th state ratifying it.
It will only carry legal weight in those countries which have ratified it, now numbering 57.
Switzerland and the United States have to ratify the treaty.
In total, 167 countries have signed the convention.
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