The message is simple. If you smoke you're playing with fire. But on the occasion of World No-Tobacco Day on Wednesday, the indications are that this message isn't getting through.
The Federal Health Office says that smoking is the number one health problem in Switzerland with 8,000 people a year dying from tobacco-related illnesses.
Among young people, the figures are sobering. Between 1992 and 1997, the increase within the 15-24 age group was 40 per cent, with a 58 per cent increase in women smokers alone.
In the 15-19 age group during the same period, the situation was even worse. The increase in smokers in general was 74 per cent, with women smokers recording a 117 per cent jump.
Asked about the effectiveness of its anti-smoking campaign in light of these figures, the director of the Swiss Association for Smoking Prevention, Verena el Fehri admitted the results were mixed.
She said there was evidence that anti-tobacco efforts were paying off in the long run.
"In 1955, 70 per cent of men in Switzerland were smokers. Today it's 38 per cent. So I think we've had success. And if you ask people what they think of smoke-free areas, 10 years ago they were much less interested than today."
But as far as young smokers are concerned, she says that information alone is not enough.
"We have to start working more closely with young people to find out how to motivate them not to start smoking. We need good programmes in schools and where young people meet after school. We also have to work against tobacco promotion and for an increase in tobacco prices."
But El Fehri said it's an uphill battle in view of the aggressive marketing by the tobacco industry in Switzerland. Twenty years ago, she said, one Swiss cigarette brand targeted men in the 25-35 age group. Now that same brand is aiming at younger people.
The slogan for this year's World No-Tobacco Day is "Tobacco Kills - Don't be Duped". The objective is to pave the way for national and global action to ban the advertising and promotion of tobacco.
But El Fehri says that without more money any such action will be difficult.
"We are really lacking money compared to what the tobacco industry spends in Switzerland to promote smoking."
by Paul Sufrin
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