The Swiss Federal Health Office is considering a ban on cigarette sales to teenagers.This content was published on February 24, 2002 - 17:32
Thomas Zeltner, the Office's director, confirmed on Sunday that his staff is studying limiting the minimum buying age to 16 or 18. The ban would be part of the 2001-2005 tobacco prevention programme.
A project is expected to be submitted for consultation next year, according to Zeltner.
The main obstacle to implementing such a plan is the large number of automatic vending machines - 30,000 - around the country. "The Office is considering blocking access to these machines using computer chips, which would only be sold to adults," said Zeltner.
Although there is no legal requirement, distributors have generally already agreed not to sell cigarettes to anybody under the age of 16. The tobacco industry has also come out in favour of banning underage sales, although critics say this has more to do with the companies' image rather than health concerns.
Many European countries have already introduced minimum age requirements for cigarette sales. Italy, Austria and Britain have set the limit at 16, while Finland, Norway and Ireland have chosen 18 as the threshold.
This type of ban would have little effect on cigarette consumption though according to prevention specialists. "This is why the tobacco industry is prepared to support a sales ban," said Verena El Fehri, director of the Swiss tobacco prevention association.
Increasing taxation of cigarettes has been considered recently as a way of preventing people from smoking. But the Swiss government turned down last week a proposal to increase the price of a packet of cigarettes from SFr4.80 ($2.84) to SFr5.60.
Health experts and prevention specialists have criticised this decision. They highlight studies that show that a 10 per cent increase in the price of cigarettes causes a four per cent drop in sales, and even a seven per cent downturn among teenagers.
swissinfo with agencies