World No Tobacco Day: a report from Switzerland

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of World No Tobacco Day (WTND) reports from around the world.

In this post, we hear from Dr Pascal Diethelm of the Swiss organisation OxyRomandie. Dr Diethelm attended the World No Tobacco day event at World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters. The keynote speaker was Ms. Jane Halton, Secretary of the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, who was elected chair of the WHO Executive Board on 29 May.

Dr Diethelm gave a presentation on his association’s successful fight against the sponsorship of the last major tennis tournament by a tobacco brand, the Davidoff Swiss Indoors. He was then presented the WNTD Award. The event was attended by representatives of a dozen Member States. The Australian delegate took the floor and announced that Australia was providing extra-budgetary contribution to the FCTC amounting to approximately 1 million dollars.

Dr Diethelm also tells of the actions by CIPRET, a Geneva tobacco control NGO of which he is a board member:

CIPRET ran an advertisement campaign in the canton of Geneva for WNTD with posters displayed in over 350 locations throughout the city and canton, and large ads in newspaper. As Switzerland has very weak legislation concerning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (some newspapers being saturated with tobacco ads, especially those whose readership has a large proportion of teenagers), the campaign was somewhat provocative. See the three posters which were used here. (Advertising kills/Advertising makes you impotent/Advertising causes cancer)

This campaign has triggered interesting reactions.

Firstly, the most widely read newspaper of Switzerland, 20Minutes – which is a free newspaper – refused to accept the ad when they saw it. The contract had been signed and the place had been reserved in the 31 May edition of the newspaper, but when they received the PDf file, they unilaterally cancelled and refused to publish it. 20Minutes is a newspaper in which tobacco companies advertise their products massively, especially in the ‘People’ pages, whose readership is predominantly teenagers and young people.

Secondly, the Swiss Advertisers’ Association (Publicité Suisse) filed a complaint against the campaign before the Swiss Commission for Loyalty in Commercial Advertising, which is a self-regulatory body of the Swiss advertising industry (where the jury is composed in its majority of representatives of the advertising industry, ie of members of Publicité Suisse – which means they will be judge and party). The advertisers’ association claims that they are defending freedom of expression. They have sent letters to the Geneva municipal authorities asking that the outdoor posters be immediately covered to hide the “offending” message (see letter here in French).  Publicité Suisse claim the message is insulting, deceptive and defamatory, arguing that the only effect of tobacco advertising is to incite smokers to switch brands (a familiar argument to tobacco control advocates).

The Tribune de Genève published two articles about this story (here and here). The second has prompted me to make a comment (first comment listed) saying in substance that to the well known slogans of Orwell’s Newspeak, “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery”, “Ignorance is Strength”, Publicité Suisse have added a new entry: “Freedom of Expression is Censorship”.




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