Pros and cons of the advertising ban – Should Switzerland accept the "Children without tobacco" initiative??
How much should advertising be restricted to prevent children and young people from smoking? The debate on the referendum and the indirect counterproposal is also going on in our editorial office.
"Today Tobacco! Tomorrow Cervelat?"This is what is written on the posters for the initiative "Children without tobacco" – with the addition: "No to the extreme ban initiative!"For the people of Aargau there is a version with carrot cake, for the people of French-speaking Switzerland one with white wine. The viewer inevitably asks herself: "What does the state want us to do? nor ban everything?" A ban on cervelats or even just the advertising for them: that would indeed be extreme.
Is there a risk of this happening if the tobacco initiative is approved?? Although there are calls to restrict advertising for unhealthy foods as well. Only: In the parliament these had so far no chance. It is unlikely that a Yes vote on the initiative would be followed by an avalanche of bans: although most European countries have long had strict bans on tobacco advertising, nowhere is advertising for sausages or cakes banned. Should a Cervelat advertising ban nevertheless become a topic one day, a vote could be forced again.
The current debate is about something else: a ban on advertising that reaches children and young people – for a product that is not just a little unhealthy, but highly addictive and leads to many premature deaths. The Cervelat campaign is a helpless attempt to divert attention from it. For lack of arguments, the opponents of the tobacco initiative conjure up the image of a state that increasingly patronizes its citizens.
But the ban under discussion is not a fit example of this. Because it does not concern the freedom of responsible citizens: adults may continue to smoke as much as they want in the case of a Yes vote. Children and adolescents, who according to studies are particularly susceptible to advertising, are to be protected from advertising aimed at encouraging them to smoke.
The counter-proposal is not enough
Although the tobacco companies deny that their advertising is aimed specifically at children and young people, they are still trying to prevent it. The fact is, however, that a large proportion of smokers are under 18 years of age. starts smoking at the age of 13. Does the tobacco industry want to gain new customers, must so they are targeting young people. It is therefore understandable that it would like to continue to advertise at festivals, in free newspapers and in social media.
It is incomprehensible, however, that the parliament followed the tobacco lobby on this point and did not adopt stricter rules in the law, which serves as an indirect counter-proposal: According to the law, tobacco advertising should only be banned on billboards, in cinemas and on sports fields. This would allow those types of advertising that reach young people in particular: Advertising at festivals, in free newspapers and in social media.
With a Yes to the tobacco initiative, this loophole can be closed. The only consequence for adults would be that they would also see less tobacco advertising. This is not disproportionate: a "Yes" vote on the "Children without Tobacco" initiative can help reduce the number of young people who start smoking. No one’s freedom will be restricted – except that of the tobacco industry.
No doubt, the name of the initiative is well chosen: Who can be against "children growing up without tobacco"?. But even those who vote on 13. February’s "No" vote strengthens the protection of minors. The indirect counter-proposal drafted by Parliament, the Tobacco Products Act, can enter into force regardless of the outcome of the initiative. In the event of a Yes to the initiative, it would have to be adjusted retroactively. The counter-proposal also provides for far-reaching restrictions on tobacco advertising to children and adolescents. And has included something that was not included in the initiative: a ban on the sale of tobacco products to under-18s throughout Switzerland – today the minimum age is 16 in 12 cantons.
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The advantage of the counter-proposal: the restrictions are precisely formulated. This is in contrast to the popular initiative, which merely states that "any kind of advertising for tobacco products that reaches children and adolescents" should be banned. Only how is this demarcation to be achieved?
Nowadays, almost every product can also reach young people, unless the advertising is directed specifically at adults, such as e-mails or targeted and personalized advertising on the Internet. The initiators dispute this; in their opinion, advertising in a quality newspaper with an adult audience, for example, would still be permitted. This interpretation is flimsy and hides the fact that the initiators basically want a complete ban on advertising – but then they should also be responsible for it.
The de facto ban on advertising enforced by the initiative would mean that tobacco advertising in the media and at events would no longer be possible. This raises the question of why a legal product should no longer be advertised at all? It should be up to responsible citizens to decide whether or not they want to expose themselves to this danger. It is no different with alcohol.
Initiative could also be counterproductive
What would also no longer be allowed to be advertised would be forms of tobacco such as e-cigarettes, heated tobacco or chewing tobacco. This would make advertising to adults, who could switch to other products, effectively impossible. However, if the goal is to improve public health, this would be counterproductive. Because every smoker who switches from cigarettes to one of these products, while not therefore consuming something healthy, is certainly consuming something significantly less harmful.
If one really has the health of children and young people in one’s sights, such a strict ban on advertising, as envisaged by the initiative, is only of very limited use. If you want to encourage them to live a smoke-free life, you have to start elsewhere. This can be achieved primarily through a sensible prevention policy, such as education in schools, and not through prohibitions. This is more laborious and costly, but does not pretend to be a quick solution, as the "Children without Tobacco" initiative does.
Gregor Poletti is a national editor and has been working in journalism for more than 30 years. There is still no sign of ageism. Everything that moves socio-politically, lets him grab the keys – from Tempo 30 to euthanasia.
Charlotte Walser has been a member of the Tamedia editorial team in the Federal Parliament since 2021. The doctor of philosophy has been working as a journalist since 1995. From 2010 to 2020, she reported from the Federal Parliament for the news agency Keystone-SDA. Other stops included InfoSud and the UN refugee organization UNHCR.