Tobacco Co's Faulted on Swiss Plans
By Clare Nullis
Associated Press Writer
Thursday, Jan. 11, 2001; 6:33 a.m. EST GENEVA Philip Morris and other tobacco companies waged successful campaigns to undermine Swiss health measures, including smoke-free areas in restaurants and offices and cigarette advertising bans, according to a study published Thursday.
The report said the tobacco industry exploited Swiss traditions of consensus democracy and enjoyed important support from politicians and other allies. It also said public health advocates underestimated the power of the industry and now needed to do more to uncover its tactics.
Switzerland was the first country to be examined after a World Health Organization committee last year recommended more study into how much tobacco companies interfere with policy-making in individual countries.
"The tobacco industry in Switzerland, as in the United States and the rest of the world, has been using the same strategies over and over to fight science and tobacco control policies," said the 129-page report by two experts from the University of California in San Francisco's medical school.
"Their well-organized network enables them to always stay up-to-date and exchange timely information and tested know-how between countries and regions," it said.
A spokeswoman at Philip Morris European headquarters in Switzerland said the company needed to study the report before making any comment.
But she reiterated company policy that it wanted to cooperate with WHO and other regulators to address concerns relating to tobacco. Philip Morris argues that criticism relates to its past behavior and that it has now changed its ways.
"The report isn't a surprise," said Ueli Locher, a senior official with the Swiss health ministry. He said the government had expected the findings following recent WHO committee findings that the tobacco industry had infiltrated the U.N. agency itself.
The report was based largely on documents released by Philip Morris during a case brought by Minnesota.
In Switzerland, with a population of 7 million, more than 10,000 people die each year from smoking-related diseases or about one sixth of all annual deaths. The annual worldwide toll is 4 million people expected to rise to 10 million by 2030 because of surging tobacco use in developing countries.
In 1980, some 37 percent of the Swiss population smoked. This fell to 31 percent in 1992 but rose again to 33 percent by 1997, with a constant increase among women and adolescents, the report noted.
At 50 percent, the tobacco excise tax in Switzerland is the lowest in Western Europe, it said.
The report said laws governing tobacco were "weak," and that there was "no meaningful protection of nonsmokers" from second-hand smoke.
The authors, Chung-Yol Lee and Stanton Glantz, wrote that the tobacco industry teamed up successfully with the hotel and restaurant industry to head off a planned law by the central Swiss state of Lucerne to force restaurants to offer nonsmoking tables.
Many Swiss restaurants still do not offer separate nonsmoking areas.
The tobacco industry tried to influence smoking policy in airplanes through partial funding of International Flight Attendants Association world congresses, the report said. Still, Swissair banned smoking on all its flights in 1997, following other major airlines.
In 1994, Swiss Federal Railways reversed a decision to make regional trains smoke-free for a trial period a moved hailed by Philip Morris.
The report said that behind-the-scenes tobacco industry lobbying watered down regulations to restrict smoking in the workplace.
Swiss referenda to ban alcohol and tobacco advertising were defeated in 1979 and 1993, largely thanks to a massive campaign by the tobacco industry, which mobilized the advertising industry and media to support it, the report said.
"As early as 1989, Philip Morris had identified Switzerland as a key battleground in Europe," it said.
On the Net:
The UCSF experts' report: http://www-library.ucsf.edu/tobacco/swiss
World Health Organization http://www.who.int
Documents from the Minnesota case: http://www.pmdocs.com
Philip Morris http://philipmorris.com/tobaccobus
© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press