Switzerland joined Romania, the Czech Republic and Germany as one of the handful of European countries to turn down a rigorous ban on smoking in all enclosed public places yesterday after voters rejected the idea in a national referendum.
With returns from nearly all of Switzerland's 26 cantons counted last night, the proposal for a nationwide smoking ban appeared to have been overwhelmingly rejected by around 65 per cent of voters.
Otto Brändlii, a doctor and pulmonary specialist from for the anti-smoking initiative, bitterly criticised the outcome, saying it would help the major tobacco companies which have chosen to base their European headquarters in Switzerland. He said the result meant that thousands would continue to be exposed to smoke at work. "I am disappointed," he said.
However, Joachim Eder, a liberal free Democrat politician and supporter of the "No" campaign which opposed a national smoking ban welcomed the result, saying that it provided a firm basis for existing laws to continue. "I hope the anti-smoking lobby can accept the verdict," he said.
Only eight of Switzerland's 26 cantons have enforced a ban on smoking in public places including bars and restaurants, while the remaining apply smoking controls less restrictively and allow special smoking rooms known as "fumoirs" which are staffed.
Yesterday's poll result signalled a continuation of the status quo, which left 18 cantons able to continue operating fumoirs with the remaining eight including Geneva, banning smoking at the workplace and in all public spaces including bars and restaurants.
Opposition to a nationwide smoking ban came mainly from bar and restaurant owners who feared a major drop in custom. Laurent Terlinchamp, president of Geneva's association of restaurant and bar owners had criticised the proposal as extreme. "In Geneva, where the law came in two years ago, we were told that a new clientele would start to come back to establishments," he said, "But this is not the case because profits are down 10 to 30 per cent depending on the type of business involved."
But Jean-Charles Rielle, a doctor with the "Protection against passive smoking" initiative, said that in the eight cantons where fumoirs had been banned since 2010, the effects were tangible: "We saw immediately a 20 per cent drop in hospitalisation due to cardiovascular incidents, heart attacks and these kinds of problems."
Romania is one of the last countries in Europe not to have imposed an official ban on smoking in public places. The Czech Republic effectively allows smoking in bars and restaurants, although the authorities recently insisted that such establishments display signs warning of the dangers of smoking.
In Germany, where banning smoking carries a negative connotation because of the Nazis' efforts to stamp out the habit, smoking was officially outlawed in 2007. However, since then many bars have successfully fought the ban in court and set up "smokers' pubs" which are forbidden to sell food.
Sweden also operates a "smoking room" policy in some bars and restaurants.
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Japan No national ban on smoking in public places exists in Japan, a country of nearly 30 million smokers. Some commentators have attributed this to a powerful tobacco lobby.
United States With no federal law banning smoking in public places, individual states are left to implement the ban themselves. Currently, 10 states have no bans in place.
Africa A number of African states including Cameroon and Chad, have no laws at all pertaining to smoking.
Indonesia Some 70 per cent of Indonesians over 20 years old are smokers, and 400,000 die each year from smoking-related llnesses.