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Swiss hooked on nicotine

Smoking among young people is far lower than the Swiss average

(Keystone)

A third of Swiss aged 14-65 smoke, but half of all smokers would like to kick the habit, according to a new survey.

The Federal Health Office study found that while more men smoked than women, females over the age of 35 found it harder to give up than men.

It speculated that factors such as stress and fear of weight gain could explain why only 20 per cent of women smokers managed to give up.

According to the figures published on Tuesday, 32 per cent of Swiss aged 14 to 65 smoked.

Among young people up to the age of 20, 17 per cent smoked on a daily basis.

Anti-smoking campaign

The latest statistics come as the Health Office tries to persuade the nation's smokers to give up.

A series of television and billboard advertisements highlight 40 harmful chemical substances contained in cigarettes, such as cancer-causing benzene and DDT.

The hard-hitting anti-smoking campaign portrays anonymous smokers with slogans such as "I inhale lead every day."

Chung-Yol Lee, head of the Federal Health Office's substance abuse unit, says the purpose of the campaign is to shock the public and provoke a nationwide debate on the subject of smoking.

"To change people's behaviour, we have to change attitudes, so we have to sensitise them," he said.

Lee says the campaign is also designed to counter the tobacco industry's own advertising, which traditionally portrays smokers as young, healthy, popular and successful.

"All this is a lie," he told swissinfo, "and people who die from smoking-related diseases are usually isolated at the end of their lives."

Mixed response

The hard-hitting campaign has attracted its fair share of controversy since its launch last month. Politicians have criticised the advertisements, saying they go too far in comparing smokers to addicts.

Lee denies the charge, adding that the campaign focuses on the fact that nicotine, a naturally occurring substance in tobacco, can be as addictive as heroin.

Felix Gutzwiller, head of Zurich University's institute for social and preventive medicine, confirms this claim.

"The scientific facts are well established," he said. "One aim of the Federal Health Office's campaign is to make people aware of these facts."

Wrong message?

Another charge being levelled is that by comparing smoking to using an illegal substance, the campaign is making criminals out of smokers.

Lee rejects this, saying that the ads rely purely on factual information. "To say that they portray smokers as criminals is personal interpretation, nothing more," he added.

Other critics say that the campaign is probably missing its target. Heinz Bonfadelli, a professor of communication at Zurich University, believes it is sending out the wrong message.

"The campaign shows smokers as helpless addicts, which is problematic for me," he told swissinfo. "Research suggests that successful campaigns rely on positive messages that show how to quit smoking."

Bonfadelli says that people tend to resist messages that convey negative images. "Smokers block out messages that highlight their own negative behaviour," he added.

swissinfo, Scott Capper and Karin Kamp

Key facts

A third of all Swiss between the ages of 14 and 65 are smokers.
Around half of all smokers would like to kick the habit.
Just 17 per cent of young people up to the age of 20 say they smoke.
The Swiss Federal Health Office is running a controversial anti-smoking campaign, which highlights the dangerous substances inhaled by smokers.

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