On the way to a tobacco- and nicotine-free Switzerland
The Swiss Association for Tobacco Control is the center of competence for tobacco prevention in Switzerland. As an umbrella organization for the promotion of non-smoking, it today comprises over 50 organizational members. AT Switzerland offers its members a broad network of experts and provides expertise on tobacco control and prevention. With evidence-based offers and the networking of the central actors, it is committed to a sustainably healthy and smoke-free Switzerland and at the same time offers the population a hand in quitting smoking and nicotine withdrawal.
An important field of action is the denormalization of the consumption of tobacco and nicotine products. This is because a large part of the population still regards the consumption of lethal tobacco and nicotine products as "normal". Furthermore, the protection of young people is at the center of its work and AT Switzerland would like to encourage smokers on their way to quitting smoking. Finally, AT Switzerland is very concerned to strengthen the protection of the population from passive smoke.
The 2023 federal election and Philip Morris money
For the first time in Switzerland, a veil has been lifted a little on the money that the political parties receive and the influence that results from it.
With the application of new rules on the transparency of political financing, political parties represented in the Federal Assembly must now annually declare their income, including each donor’s name who gave more than 15,000 francs in the year. These rules apply for the first time to the October 2023 federal election.
Phillip Morris Intl (PMI): CHF 35,000 for UDC and CHF 35,000 for PLR
The first analyses of the data published in the register kept by the federal financial control office following the new obligation to declare funding to parties clearly show that two parties benefit massively from the lobbyists’ money: UDC and PLR.[i] The budgeted campaign revenues are thus more than CHF 12 million for UDC and more than CHF 13 million for PLR.
A detailed look in the public register shows that UDC and PLR each received a contribution of CHF 35,000 from Philip Morris for their respective campaigns in the 2023 federal elections.[ii]
These payments raise many questions. Why does PMI finance these parties in this way? Can we still believe in the independence of UDC and PLR federal parliamentarians when it comes to voting on public health laws against smoking? Will they be looking after the interests of the Swiss population or those of a multinational corporation that is only truly Swiss at its headquarters?
While the costs to health insurance directly caused by smoking are at least CHF 3 billion and constantly increasing, why do UDC and PLR refuse all effective public health measures which could lead to a reduction in the number of smokers and could thereby reduce the burden on health insurance? During the legislative session that is now drawing to a close, the UDC and PLR legislators were particularly conspicuous in their rejection of all strong measures in the bill on tobacco products (LPTab) and opposed the implementation of the popular initiative, “No Tobacco Ads for Children and Young Adults”, which truly reflected the will of the people in the vote of 13 February 2022.[iii]
Even if it constitutes remarkable progress towards greater transparency in the political system, the modification of the transparency law is still quite inadequate. In effect, only sums greater than CHF 15,000 must be declared. Companies and organizations should be required to declare the total amounts they pay to each political entity.
The campaign against the popular initiative, “No Tobacco Ads for Children and Young Adults”
On 13 February 2022, the people and the cantons clearly accepted this popular initiative, which aimed to drastically restrict tobacco advertising aimed at young people.[iv]
During the campaign, a committee of opponents was very active, displaying massive posters in train stations and streets bearing the notorious slogan, “Tobacco today? Tomorrow cervelas [Swiss sausages]?, with riffs on other beloved Swiss products such as white wine (“…white wine tomorrow?”). The opponents’ campaign was a classic example of absurd demagogic amalgam, putting forward an imaginary risk of opening the door to all manner of prohibitions.
February 2022: poster of the opponents of the popular initiative, “No Tobacco Ads for Children and Young Adults”
The opponents' communications campaign was orchestrated by a well-known communications company already accustomed to running other UDC campaigns. And on the opponents’ committee we find UDC and PLR legislators whose links with the tobacco industry are well known, such as Gregor Rutz, who also holds the position of president of Swiss Tobacco, and Damien Cottier, representing the canton of Neuchâtel where Philip Morris has its global research and development centre. The intersecting interests are numerous, but often invisible.
AT evaluated the campaign of the initiative’s opponents by estimating that their poster and promotional expenditures, including electronic media, had been around CHF 6–7 million. As the current transparency standards were not yet in force at the time, it is impossible to know exactly who contributed to the opponents' campaign. Nevertheless, we would be justified in assuming that the majority, if not all, came directly or indirectly from the tobacco industry, which had a vested interest in the initiative’s failure.
PMI’s political party financing policy
Direct financing of political parties is far from new for PMI. In Germany, in 2022, PMI showered all the parties with money, giving equal sums of €30,000 to the country’s four main parties (CDU, CSU, FPD, and SPD). In the United States, the tobacco industry, and PMI in particular, has been shown to have donated millions for election campaigns to candidates, mainly Republican, who were favourable to them.[v] In Australia, transparency mechanisms have been in place for much longer than here, so we know that PMI and BAT have been giving money to the parties most favourable to them for over 20 years.[vi] For example, in 2022, PMI donated more than USD 71,000 to the Australian Liberal Democratic Party.
International data on the financing of political parties by tobacco multinationals is very sketchy, but clearly shows that these multinationals carefully choose to give money to the political parties that are most favourable to them. Why should it be any different in Switzerland? We have every right to ask the many questions that such payments raise. If a company such as PMI donates a sum of CHF 35,000 to a political party, no matter which one, can we believe that it does this without expecting significant rewards in return? If we believe that, we may as well believe in Santa Claus.
Bolliger, Jan: “Bürgerliche wehren sich gegen strenges Tabakwerbeverbot”, Tages-Anzeiger Online, 21.09.2023, URL : www.tagesanzeiger.ch/schutz-von-minderjaehrigen-buergerliche-wehren-sich-gegen-strenges-tabakwerbeverbot-377776191654, consulted on 25.09.2023.
Maurisse, Marie. Philip Morris a financé la campagne de la droite : L'UDC et le PLR ont tous deux reçu des fonds du cigarettier. Pendant ce temps, leurs députés révisent la loi sur les produits du tabac. 24 Heures, 13.10.2023, URL: https://www.24heures.ch/elections-federales-philip-morris-a-finance-la-campagne-de-la-droite-146706844025, consulted on 17.10.2023