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Stakes rise in passive-smoking debate

(Keystone)

A people's initiative in Geneva to ban smoking in public places has gone to a federal level with the country's highest court set to rule on it.

The news comes as the parliamentary health committee recommended a national smoking ban in workplaces, covering restaurants, bars, cinemas and shopping centres.

No date had been set for the vote in Geneva that also aims to ban smoking in enclosed public buildings, but following challenges to the initiative's constitutional legality – which the Geneva cantonal government had already passed – the matter must now be decided by the federal court in Lausanne.

It is now likely that the cantonal government will start working on a counter-initiative which would water down the more controversial points and would include exceptions to the smoking ban in public places.

On Friday the parliamentary health committee sent all relevant parties its recommendations for consultation. The committee's main concern is protecting people from being forced to inhale smoke, and to that end it recommends smoke-free workplaces.

Felix Gutzwiller, a doctor and parliamentarian who initiated the motion, said one person in Switzerland dies every day and thousands fall ill as a result of long-term passive smoking.

Gutzwiller is demanding that measures against passive smoking be written into the employment law.

The government has estimated that passive smoking causes damage worth SFr500 million ($400 million) a year.

According to a recent survey by anti-passive smoking organisation Pro aera, almost eight out of ten respondents supported Gutzwiller's proposals.

Other cantons

In March, Ticino, in the southern Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, became the first canton to ban smoking in public places.

Voters decided in a referendum by an overwhelming majority (79.1 per cent) to follow the lead of neighbouring Italy by modifying current legislation on the issue.

The law bans smoking in all restaurants, bars, discos and nightclubs. Owners of such establishments have the possibility to make separate areas for smoking but these have to be well ventilated. There is a grace period of one year for alteration work to be carried out.

The vote was seen as a formality after recent surveys had found that more than 80 per cent of those polled supported the smoking ban.

Other cantons where moves are being made to prevent passive smoking are Fribourg, Neuchâtel, Jura, Zurich, Aargau, St Gallen and Solothurn.

Vaud was the first canton to introduce a ban on selling tobacco to those under 18, but others have decided to follow suit or are in the process of doing so, including the two half cantons of Basel, Bern, Graubünden, Lucerne, Solothurn, Zug, Thurgau and Zurich.

The Swiss Federal Railways introduced a ban on smoking in its trains on December 12 last year.

swissinfo with agencies

Consultation procedure

When the government is considering introducing or amending a law or signing a major international treaty, it opens a consultation procedure to ...

In brief

The protection of non-smokers in the workplace was introduced into legislation in 1992.

Ticino has been a pioneer on the smoking issue. In March, the canton's voters accepted a ban on smoking in public buildings.

A parliamentary initiative aiming for better protection of passive smokers is due to be discussed in the near future.

Smoking was banned in trains of the Swiss Federal Railways on December 12 last year.

Vaud was the first canton to have banned the sale of tobacco to those under 18 years of age.

end of infobox

Key facts

There are around two million smokers in Switzerland (which has a population of 7.4 million).
Switzerland has one of the highest rates of tobacco consumption in Europe. Regular smokers on average consume more than 20 cigarettes a day.
About 8,000 people die from smoking-related illnesses in Switzerland each year, according to the Federal Health Office.
A packet of cigarettes currently costs SFr6.30 ($5).
64% want smoke-free pubs.
67% want further restrictions on tobacco advertising.
90% want selling tobacco to young people to be made illegal.

end of infobox


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