Switzerland is planning to follow the European Union by banning most tobacco advertising, according to health officials.
However, the Federal Health Office admitted that it would be several years before Bern came close to matching the scale of the EU's ban, announced on Monday.
The office made the comments to swissinfo following a decision by EU health ministers to extend a ban on tobacco advertising to radio, newspapers and the Internet. As in Switzerland, cigarette advertising on television has long since been outlawed.
Philippe Vallat, head of national tobacco control programme at Switzerland's Federal Health Office said it was only a matter of time before Switzerland followed suit.
"We intend to follow the EU," he told swissinfo. "One of the government's stated goals is the restriction of tobacco advertising. It is too early to say precisely what the controls would be, but we will certainly have to take into consideration the EU legislation."
The EU's new law, to come into force in 2005, has already run into stiff opposition, particularly from media firms, which stand to lose substantial revenues at a time when advertising is suffering a general slump because of the weak economy.
Piero Schäfer, spokesman for umbrella association of Swiss advertisers, said his members would be fighting tooth and nail to resist any attempts to extend the ban in Switzerland.
Fighting a ban
He told swissinfo that his organisation had assembled an alliance of 20 firms, including tobacco companies, to fight moves to ban tobacco advertising.
"We have done a lot of lobbying in Bern, and have done quite a good job on a national level [where] we have blocked an initiative put before parliament."
He said bans were becoming more common at a local level, and these were proving harder to counteract.
Schäfer poured scorn on suggestions that a ban on tobacco advertising had any effect on smoking. "There is no evidence that a ban on tobacco advertising leads to a decline in smoking.
"Our position is that, as long as cigarettes are legally on the market, manufacturers must be able to advertise the product."
The Swiss advertising industry is worth about SFr7 billion a year, SFr80 million of which - just over one per cent - comes from tobacco advertising.
Out of reach
Health campaigners were not entirely happy with the EU's ban, given that it stops short of prohibiting cinema advertisements, billboards, posters and indirect tobacco advertising, such as logos on clothing.
They take the view, shared by the Swiss Federal Health Office, that a "total [advertising] ban is the best way to curb smoking".
The World Bank estimates that a complete ban on tobacco would result in an eight per cent reduction in smoking.
"A ban on advertising would be highly effective [particularly] among youngsters," said Philippe Vallat.
He acknowledges that to be effective in cutting tobacco consumption "you need to implement many different measures, such as an advertising ban, higher prices, and good prevention programmes".
"An advertising ban is one element of tobacco control [but] it is one of the most effective measures."
swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh
The EU ban applies to tobacco adverts on radio, newspapers and the Internet.
But it stops short of cinema advertisements, billboards, posters and indirect tobacco advertising.
Tobacco advertising is worth SFr80 million a year in Switzerland.
The World Bank says a total ban would cut smoking by eight per cent.