Tobacco is big business. The industry is expected to generate almost US$ 700 billion globally by 2021.
This scale makes the industry a formidable foe for those hoping to spare people the damaging health effects of tobacco addiction.
In 2018, a group in Switzerland launched an initiative to ban tobacco advertising targeted at young people.
A US study shows that close to 90% of adult smokers start before the age of 18, so keeping advertising away from young people is a logical way to reduce the chances of lifelong addiction.
In practice it is difficult to ban adverts that might reach young people without banning adverts for everyone.
To some extent the argument comes down to whether it is acceptable to ban adverts that might reach adults in order to avoid influencing young people, who might end up with a damaging lifelong addiction.
Currently, tobacco advertising is not allowed on Swiss radio and television. The initiative, which had gathered the more than 100,000 signatures needed to launch a referendum, aims to extend the ban to print media, billboards, festivals, cinemas, shops, and most controversially, the internet. It also wants to ban tobacco sponsorship.
The Federal Council, Switzerland’s executive, recently rejected the plan. It considers it tantamount to a total tobacco advertising ban, which it thinks goes too far. At the same time it is open to measures to protect young people from the dangers of tobacco.
In a parliamentary debate the Federal Council said it would be open to banning tobacco advertising in cinemas and on billboards, as is already the case in several Swiss cantons. The government hopes new legislation restricting tobacco advertising will be enough to satisfy the public ahead of a referendum on the subject.
27% of Swiss adults smoke and an even higher 32% of 15 to 25 year old Swiss smoke. The percentage rises from 16% to 38% between the ages of 15 to 17 and 24 to 25. Addiction is a clear feature of youth tobacco consumption. 50% of 15 to 25 year olds report they would like to quit. This percentage rises from 34% of 15 to 17 year old smokers to 66% of 24 to 25 year old .
And the tobacco industry works hard to market their products to young people. Nearly 57% of 24 to 25 year olds report receiving a tobacco-related promotional gift.
The annual costs of smoking in Switzerland, which are only partially covered by tobacco taxes, are estimated to be around CHF 5 billion. Non-smokers, who are forced to cover some of the cost of tobacco related healthcare and disability via health insurance premiums and taxes, are effectively subsidising the tobacco industry.