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Smokers will find new cigarette prices a drag

In Switzerland, a packet of cigarettes will cost around SFr6.30 or more in the future

(Keystone)

Swiss smokers will have to pay out more for a packet of cigarettes as the authorities attempt to curb smoking by hitting where it hurts: in the pocket.

The price went up SFr0.30 ($0.24) on October 1, raking in more revenue for the state pension scheme, and the government hopes, convincing more people to give up their nicotine habit.

Smoking is expensive in Switzerland. A packet of 20 cigarettes costs SFr6 or more, with over half this sum heading straight to the state coffers as tax income.

Under Swiss law, this revenue is paid directly into the state pension scheme. In 2005, it was worth SFr2.1 billion, approximately six per cent of the scheme's income.

But health specialists say the real benefit from increased tobacco prices is the number of people who quit smoking because of the cost. To back this up, the Federal Health Office quotes a 1999 World Bank study that claims smoking drops by four per cent when the price goes up by a tenth.

Cigarette prices have doubled in Switzerland since the 1990s, but the number of smokers remains at about 30 per cent of the population. This is close to the European average.

Thousands of deaths

Around the world, one third of the population over the age of 15 smokes. The nicotine habit kills an estimated four million people each year. In Europe, tobacco is responsible for the deaths of half a million.

In Switzerland up to 10,000 people die from smoking-related diseases annually, more than the all the deaths due to road accidents, Aids, alcohol, illegal drug consumption, murder and suicide combined.

Another 16,000 are considered disabled because of smoking, drawing resources away from the Swiss health and social security systems.

Critics say that politicians have shirked their duty so far. The anti-tobacco lobby claims that if 30 people died every day in a plane crash, security measures would be taken immediately and those responsible for the accidents would have to answer questions in court.

Breaking a smoker's dependency on nicotine through prices alone will not suffice admit the authorities. Consumers look for cheaper substitutes, buy cigarettes abroad at less cost or rely on the black market.

Nicotine isn't the only troublemaker in the pack either. Smokers also absorb a variety of chemicals, carbon monoxide and tar as part of their fix.
Smoking is now on the back foot in Switzerland. It is has been banned recently in many public spaces and even voters seem to be warming to the idea, as was recently the case in the southern canton of Ticino.

There is still some discussion as to how much tobacco consumption costs the Swiss economy. Recent studies estimate the figure to be around SFr5 billion, but if health costs are factored in, it could be the double.

swissinfo, Erwin Dettling

In brief

Since 1992, non-smokers are protected from passive smoking in the workplace under Swiss law.

But voters haven't always been in favour of restrictions on tobacco. In 1993, more than 70 per cent turned down proposals to ban tobacco and alcohol advertising.

However, a number of cantons are drawing up legislation offering non-smokers more protection, while in others votes will probably take place.

The southern canton of Ticino showed the way in March, with voters massively approving a ban on smoking in public spaces.

The Swiss Federal Railways also declared its trains smoke-free last December.

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