Cultivation, advertising, consumption – smoking in switzerland – an eventful history

The discussion about smoking and the health consequences has been going on in Switzerland for decades – emotional and controversial. The view on smoking has changed a lot in the long time.

Author: Andrea Jaggi

High on horseback in the wilds of America, the cowboy in the 1970s advertisement embodies the feeling of freedom, even in Switzerland. Cigarettes are not only smoked in Switzerland, they are also produced here. Tobacco has been grown in Switzerland since 1680. Still used today, although much less so than in 1940.

At that time, Switzerland was able to cover almost a quarter of its annual tobacco demand itself. The area under cultivation was doubled during the Second World War. Cigarette smoking was very popular after the war. Smoking has become a symbol of freedom, says health expert Martin Bienlein, who has worked for the Working Group for Tobacco Prevention, among others.

It could already have been known that smoking is detrimental to health. As early as the 1950s, there were the first signs of this, according to Bienlein. Finally, in 1964, American scientists were able to prove that smoking can cause lung cancer.

Advertising yes, but not for tobacco

In the same year, the Federal Council allowed Swiss television to broadcast commercials, but tobacco advertising was excluded. The NZZ wrote about the decision at the time: "With this decision, the Federal Council is taking into account corresponding submissions from the medical profession and institutions whose objective is the promotion and preservation of public health."

In the following decades, political debates, popular initiatives, and court rulings repeatedly arise around the issue of smoking. In 1987, the Swiss Television Club had a lively discussion about smoking.

At the beginning of the program, the presenter asked, while a guest was already smoking: "It is so common at meetings today that you first vote on whether smoking is allowed or not. How do you have it?" The already smoking was writer and satirist Gabriel Laub. He was not put off: "It’s fun when I smoke."He has nothing against it, however, if others do not smoke.

Step by step smoke-free rooms

But the non-smokers have become louder over the years. In the 1990s, they were given more protection: employers were required to offer smoke-free workplaces. And in 2005, SBB abolished smoking compartments on trains. Five years later, in 2010, the federal government protected employees even more from passive smoking and banned smoking in public places as well as in restaurants and bars.

Some Basel landlords are rehearsing the uprising. "We have found a loophole in the law, and we are exploiting it. Because it’s our livelihood that’s at stake," says one landlady who has converted her taproom into a club pub. Who has a membership card, may enter. The guests are happy: "No one can forbid me to smoke!"Five years later, however, the Federal Supreme Court put a stop to this practice.

Law goes too little far for initiators

The number of smokers decreased to 27 percent in 2017, according to the Federal Office of Statistics. It has been stagnating for several years. Since most smokers quit before their 18. When the Swiss parliament passed a new law on tobacco advertising on the occasion of the 60th birthday of the company, it banned billboard advertising and cinema spots for tobacco or the distribution of free samples.

For the initiators of "Children and Young People without Tobacco", this does not go far enough. They want any tobacco advertising to be banned that could reach children and young people. So things have changed a lot since the cowboy on his steed used to tempt people to smoke.

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