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06.04.2023 |News

A tsunami of nicotine is flooding our schools

One out of every three 15-year-olds had used at least one tobacco or nicotine product in the 30 days preceding the survey, most often in the form of electronic cigarettes. Mandated by the Federal Office of Public Heath, Addiction Suisse conducted an HBSC (Health Behaviour in School-aged Children) study last year using a representative sample of 11- to 15-year-olds nationwide.

Total failure of federal policies combatting smoking and nicotine use

The numbers which have just been published on tobacco and nicotine use among young people are troubling. The sudden appearance - partly during the COVID-19 pandemic - of new products (disposable electronic cigarettes, snus, nicotine packets) at unbeatable prices had already become disturbing by that time. The question before us now is: How did we get here? When it comes to smoking prevention, the policy lag in Switzerland is both obvious and self-inflicted. There are two reasons for this. One is that, because the parliament is weak and has been co-opted by a tobacco industry lacking any moral scruples, Switzerland still lacks legislation regarding tobacco products. A law concerning these products is set to go into effect in 2024 - 20 years behind our European neighbours - but it is at best insufficient and limited. In addition, the Confederation's public health strategy for smoking prevention has become hardly more than barely audible background noise.

and strict measures to protect our youth are urgently needed, or the results of the next HBSC study in five years will be even more alarming. The problems and solutions are known; now the need is for determined action.

In this context, it is concerning that the State Council, in its mid-March meeting, was unable to find the political will to do more than introduce a minimal tax on e-cigarettes, and was unwilling to increase the minimal tax in force on snus-based products. Yet it has been scientifically proven that high prices on such products have a preventive effect, especially for young people.

The statistics from the HBSC study

37,7 % of boys and 34,7 % of girls have used a tobacco or nicotine product in the past 30 days. In 2022, 7% of boys and 6% of girls age 15 had smoked conventional cigarettes on at least 10 out of the previous 30 days.

15-year-old girls are catching up to boys (e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products, snus):
In 2018, 20,6% of boys age 15 had used electronic cigarettes during the previous 30 days. Among 15-year-old girls, consumption was 12,9%. In 2022, these numbers rose to 25,1% for boys and 25% for girls. For heated tobacco products, the rates have more than tripled. 13% of young people age 15 used snus at least once in the past 30 days, which is double the proportion from 2018. There was also a clear increase of use among girls in that age group (from 1% to 6%).

Politicians need to act:

After a decline between 2010 and 2014, these results show an increase by 2022.

Young people are trying these substances earlier and new products are appearing, while cigarette consumption has not diminished. The expansion of the use of products such as e-cigarettes and snus must be stopped. Regulatory measures to reduce their attractiveness and access to them are urgently needed. Hence, the following points are important:

  • Need for strict enforcement of the "Children Without Tobacco" initiative
  • Introduction of neutral packaging of all such products
  • Increase in prices

Young people: a special case

The use of psychoactive substances presents special challenges with young people. The growing body is more vulnerable to damage from these substances, and there is a greater risk of developing an addiction. Thus it is necessary to protect young people with structural measures regarding publicity, access, price, packaging, and flavours.

This means:

Reducing attractiveness:

  • A complete and absolute ban on publicity targeting young people, particularly on social media and the internet
  • Significant limits on marketing (design, packaging, points of sale, advertising media...)
  • Requirement that these products no longer be visible at points of sale accessible to minors

Limiting access:

  • Introduction of a system of licences to sell nicotine- and tobacco-based products, with easy revocation of these licences and significant fines which could discourage abuse
  • Large increase in the price of all such products by means of effective taxation, in particular for cigarettes costing at least 20 francs per packet, but also for the other products
  • Protection of young people: ban on selling to minors and enforcement of this law

Improving prevention for youth:

  • Increase in the resurces available for prevention efforts by doubling the funds allocated to the Smoking Prevention Fund (FPT)
  • Development of prevention offerings targeting young people, particularly those coming from low-income and migrant backgrounds

Read the complete report:


Read the technical data sheet of the results:




The HBSC survey of schoolchildren (Health Behaviour in School-aged-Children) is an international survey conducted in over 50 countries under the auspices of the World Health Organization (OMS-Europe). For more than 30 years, Addiction Suisse has been studying health behaviorus, including the consumption of addictive substances by Swiss youth. In all, 636 classes, or 9345 students ages 11 to 15 years old, participated in the national study during the survey year 2022. The study is financed by the Federal Office of Public Health (OFSP) and the majority of cantons.

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