Switzerland - unified program to ban smoking in buildings open to the public..

May 27, 2009 - A coalition of 40 health organisations has launched an initiative to ban smoking in all buildings open to the public across Switzerland. At present, about half of the country's 26 cantons (states within Switzerland) already have rules regulating smoking in bars and restaurants, but proponents of the campaign say the country's laws are too disjointed and do not go far enough. Switzerland is not a member of the European Union.

The new law, if passed, would make any room open to the public smoke free, including those in restaurants, bars, schools and hospitals. Workplaces would also ban smoking inside. The regulations would cover all of Switzerland.

The alliance, which includes groups like the Swiss Cancer League, numerous medical groups and worker associations like Travail.Suisse, has until November 2010 to collect 100,000 signatures needed to force a nationwide vote on the issue.

Doing so should not present any problems, proponents say, because much of the Swiss population already supports moves to make areas smoke free. According to a survey of 640 people by the research and marketing firm DemoScope, the initiative would pass overwhelmingly with a 68 per cent majority if residents were asked to cast their votes today.

On a nationwide level, parliament last year approved a limited ban that allows for smoking rooms, or fumoirs, in some restaurants. Cantons reserve the authority to make tighter rules, which often consider the size of an establishment.

Thierry Carrel, a cardiovascular surgeon, noted that an aggressive law against smoking in public spaces in Italy has produced significant results. In Rome the number of heart attacks has dropped 11% for people aged 35-64 since the law passed in 2005. Similar results were found in other areas with smoking bans, including Ireland, Scotland, France and the United States. Were the same measures to be introduced in Switzerland, Carrel says the country could expect upward of 3,300 fewer coronary events like heart attacks each year.

Reference: Initiative aims to stub out smoking nationwide, SwissInfo.ch, 5/25/2009.