Smoke-free Switzerland: as other European countries act to protect the public against tobacco smoke in restaurants and bars, Swiss parliament is pondering its options. And a cantonal crackdown, as well as surveys of the public and politicians on federal health committees, suggest it could happen--as soon as this year.

AuteurShepard, Lyn

It's an axiom of Swiss politics that change occurs here only when grass-roots pressure demands it. Members of the healthcare committees in both parliamentary houses tell Swiss News that a sense of public urgency is mounting.

They predict that in keeping with a smoking ban imposed by Switzerland's national train network SBB in December, parliament will outlaw smoking in restaurants and bars and other public places in 2006. Aargau National Councillor Christine Egerszegli-Obrist summed up the sentiment, saying that "efforts of tobacco prevention are slowly gaining a majority."

Other signs include recent events in Ticino, the first Swiss canton to protect against second-hand smoke in restaurants, pubs and discos. A referendum was launched in early March by right-wing parties hoping to overturn the new restrictions.

But Ticino voted by an overwhelming majority--79 per cent--to amend current legislation in order to ban smoking in all restaurants, bars, discos and nightclubs. Proprietors who wish to accommodate smokers have one year to provide separate and ventilated areas.

Geneva is expected to vote on a smoking ban for enclosed public buildings, while cantons Fribourg, Neuchatel, Jura, Zurich, Aargau, St Gallen and Solothurn, are considering their own measures to prevent passive smoke inhalation.

Federal moves

But more comprehensive change could be imposed by federal authorities. Parliament's key figure on this issue is Felix Gutzwiller, a Zurich physician who presented a draft bill that has already been approved by the healthcare committees of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Gutzwiller, a member of the centre-right Radical Party and the House of Representatives, says his bill would create "smoke-free zones in public buildings and those accessible to the public with possible exceptions in the restaurant sector."

To determine how the bill will fare among his colleagues in parliament, Swiss News contacted some key members of the health committees that debated and approved it.

Surveyed were 25 members of the House of Representatives (ten responded) and 13 members of the Senate (six responded), of whom a solid majority (92 per cent of decided respondents) said the bill would pass this year.

Respondents said, for them, the smoke-free trend is explained by intensive lobbying by public-health activists--an effort that apparently outmanoeuvred the tobacco lobby.

Gutzwiller notes that the tobacco and public health lobbies are competing...

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