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Tobacco exports flourish as Swiss smoke less

Tobacco farmers receive SFr18 million in subsidies annually Keystone

Tobacco manufacturers in Switzerland are going from strength to strength, with exports almost doubling in the past five years.

However, the number of Swiss smokers is gradually decreasing as anti-smoking measures gain momentum – Saturday is World No Tobacco Day – and the number of Swiss-made cigarettes sold on the domestic market continues to fall.

Switzerland is something of a magnet for international tobacco companies, with three large firms – British American Tobacco Switzerland, Philip Morris International (PMI) and JT International – having headquarters or operations centres here.

What makes Switzerland an attractive location for these firms? In a written statement, PMI told swissinfo that the company had 40 years of history in Switzerland. PMI has recently invested almost SFr500 million ($477 million) in the upgrade of its Lausanne and Neuchâtel sites.

Switzerland is also an important market for PMI. “As a market leader on the Swiss tobacco market, we are continually strengthening our brand portfolio to meet the evolving preferences of adult smokers in Switzerland,” PMI said.

Harmful product

Like all tobacco companies, PMI treads a delicate line, selling products that it knows to be harmful.

“Our goal is to grow by winning market share from our competitors. … At the same time we recognise and acknowledge that we manufacture a product that is addictive and causes serious disease,” it stated.

PMI also makes the argument that as long as there are smokers, there will be tobacco companies.

“Regulation should govern the manufacture, marketing, sale and use of all tobacco products, while at the same time allowing us to commercialise products that meet adult consumers’ preferences,” said the company.

However, many new smokers come from the ranks of the under 18s. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship to protect young people.

The WHO chose World No Tobacco Day to make its appeal. “This year’s campaign focuses on the multi-billion dollar efforts of tobacco companies to attract young people to its addictive products through sophisticated marketing,” a WHO statement said.

“The tobacco industry employs predatory marketing strategies to get young people hooked to their addictive drug,” Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative said.

Premature death

Switzerland’s national smoking prevention programme, which aims to make society view non-smoking as the norm, has been in place since 2001.

The programme seeks to inform smokers about the consequences of tobacco consumption and the risks associated with it. Half of all regular smokers die prematurely from smoking-related diseases.

Although the number of Swiss smokers has fallen over the past decade, there was no change between 2006 and 2007, with the rate remaining steady at 29 per cent.

This was despite moves by the federal and cantonal authorities to ban smoking in public buildings and restaurants.

Despite the fact that Switzerland regulates and spends heavily on prevention, Swiss tobacco farmers still enjoy a subsidy. Tobacco companies must pay SFr0.026 per packet of cigarettes to the domestic growers’ cooperative for the advancement of the sector.

The contribution of around SFr18 million per year supports just over 320 farms that make a living from tobacco.

In 2007 12.5 billion cigarettes were sold in Switzerland.

This means 625 million packets or 98 packets per person over 14 years old per year.

Also in 2007 29 per cent of 14 to 65 year olds were smokers – 33 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women.

This rate has dropped from 33 per cent in 2001 (37 per cent men, 30 per cent women).

Smoking causes 8,000 premature deaths each year in Switzerland.

Cigarettes have been manufactured in Switzerland since 1870. The industry produced almost 54 billion in 2007, 11.5 billion sold on the domestic market and 42.2 billion exported.

On the domestic market, cigarette manufacturers have a turnover of more than SFr3 billion, half of which is paid into the pension and invalidity insurance funds through tobacco taxes.

Swiss manufacturers have a range of around 50 brands, with up to 200 different products on offer.

Today, tobacco is cultivated in nine different cantons in 324 farms. The crop is grown on around 650 hectares, giving employment to around 670 people. The Swiss crop makes up just 5% cent of the tobacco used to produce cigarettes in Switzerland.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR