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Sponsorship controversy Swiss sever links with tobacco firm for Expo 2020

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Critics say the tobacco industry has a long tradition of lobbying Swiss politicians


Under-fire Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis has dumped tobacco company Philip Morris as a sponsor of the Swiss pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. This follows a wave of negative headlines and criticism from health organisations. 

Cassis took this decision “so as not to undermine the primary objective of the Swiss presence in Dubai, which is to convey a positive image of Switzerland”, the foreign ministry said in a statementexternal link on Tuesday. 

The ministry had previously argued that Philip Morris was an important multinational with European headquarters in Switzerland. 

It had also pointed out that parliament had approved a proposal to have half of the CHF15 million ($15.1 million) for the Swiss pavilion provided by private sponsors. Philip Morris had been due to chip in CHF1.8 million to the Swiss presence at the Expo 2020 in Dubai.

The company reportedly also contributed CHF45,000 towards the opening ceremony of the new Swiss embassy to Moscow last month. 

On Sunday the SonntagsBlick newspaper pointed outexternal link that other government ministries had also accepted corporate aid. For example, the defence ministry confirmed it had received money from companies such as RUAG, Pilatus and Swisscom at three aviation events. 

Cassis has ordered revisions to the ministry’s sponsorship policy by the end of the year to prevent similar situations from re-occurring. 


The foreign ministry had come under intense pressure from Swiss health and anti-addiction groups, as well as universities and the World Health Organization. They argue that accepting tobacco money contradicts ethical principles and is in breach of international rules. 

Philip Morris, which has its international operations and research centre in western Switzerland, had said the sponsoring deal was an opportunity to highlight science and innovation as it was planning to promote a smoke-free surrogate tobacco product. 

On Tuesday it said it regretted the decision and “but also the circumstance that the foreign minister was brought into this position by activists and organisations, especially since these actors say they want to end smoking but apparently don’t have any interest in an open dialogue about grounded science, innovation and better alternatives for smokers”. 

Critics say the tobacco industry has a long tradition of lobbying Swiss politicians.  

Switzerland has refused to ratify the WHO convention on tobacco control.


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