By Urs Geiser
A proposal to ban special smoker’s lounges and bars has been thrown out by Swiss voters in a nationwide ballot. The government welcomed Sunday’s result but vowed to continue anti-smoking prevention efforts.
Two out of three voters rejected an initiative by the Lung League aimed at boosting the protection of waiting staff against the effects of second-hand tobacco smoke.
The proposal, supported by health organisations and centre-left parties, sought to tighten current minimum legislation which bans smoking in restaurants but allows cantonal authorities to grant exceptions.
Eighteen of the 26 cantons currently have a more liberal law, while only eight others, mainly in the French-speaking part of the country, have imposed an outright ban.
Interior Minister Alain Berset said the protection against second-hand smoke remained high on the agenda of the government despite voters’ rejection of a stricter nationwide legislation.
“Today’s ‘No’ is not a ‘No’ to second-hand smoke,” he told a news conference. Voters were just not willing to amend the law, less than three years after parliament agreed a compromise, according to Berset.
Existing legislation is showing positive results and smoking remains banned in indoor public places, he added.
The Lung League, which had pushed for tougher rules, said it was disappointed with the result, but its director, Sonja Bietenhard, does not believe it is the beginning of a more smoker-friendly trend. She said the campaign in the run up to the vote helped raise public awareness of the health hazards of second-hand smoke.
Opponents of the initiative, including the restaurant sector and most political parties, described the voters’ verdict as a common sense decision.
Political scientist Claude Longchamp of the GfS Bern research institute pointed out that opponents managed to successfully focus their campaign on a simple message, decrying the initiative as radical and unnecessary.
Experts point out that the even regions with stricter anti-smoking regulations rejected the initiative on Sunday. An estimated 27 per cent of Swiss residents are smokers, according to a survey.
An initiative to reduce taxes for retired homeowners was rejected with a margin of about five per cent. A leading pressure group argued elderly property owners who have paid off their mortgage deserve a reward.
The proposal sought to free retired owners of the so-called rental value of homes or apartments – the costs due if the property were rented. The uniquely Swiss system is aimed at putting property owners and tenants on a par for tax purposes.
It was the third vote on property ownership this year in Switzerland – a country where more than 60 per cent of the population live in rented accommodation.
Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the relatively close results showed that the rental value remained controversial. She said the government was willing to consider a reform if it was well balanced.
Opponents, including most political parties, the government and the cantons, argued the initiative was trying to give a small group of the population unfair tax breaks which would have led to a slump in revenue of SFr750 million ($803 million) annually.
For its part, the Home Owners Association, which had masterminded the initiative, said Sunday’s result was “more than an honorable defeat”.
A third issue – the promotion of musical schooling – won overwhelming approval by voters. It gives the federal authorities a greater say in education matters, largely the responsibility of the cantons.
The result – nearly 73 per cent of voters approved the proposal – was expected as opponents staged virtually no campaign ahead of the vote.
The proposal dates back to a plan by music teachers to fight attempts at schools to cut back art lessons and give music education the same support as sport promotion.
Turnout in Sunday’s ballots was just over 42 per cent, slightly below average.