Switzerland is often seen as a progressive country, thanks to its high standard of living, excellent economy, and fairly liberal laws. Would you be surprised to know that it’s actually one of the worst countries on the continent when it comes to suppressing addiction to tobacco?
The smoking prevalence in Switzerland is undeniable. About a quarter of the country’s residents are smokers, and there are still places where it’s perfectly fine to smoke indoors despite the smoking ban that’s been in place for a few years.
Some towns even allow the sale of tobacco products to minors! Keep reading to learn more about smoking in Switzerland, especially if you’re trying to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke while you’re traveling the country.
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Smoking Statistics in Switzerland
There are approximately 25% of current smokers in Switzerland, so the vast majority of the residents are non-smokers. However, that number has been declining very slowly because there were around 26% of smokers back in 2015. Despite the relatively high cost of cigarette packs, people in Switzerland refuse to give up on the habit that’s confirmed to induce lung cancer.
I’m not going to debate whether that’s acceptable or not, but what I will tell you is that Switzerland is one of the worst countries in Europe when it comes to suppressing tobacco addiction. The only other country that’s worse than Switzerland is Bosnia and Herzegovina, where cigarette smoking in cafes and restaurants is just starting to get regulated in 2023.
Statistically speaking, smoking is more common among Swiss men than women. Approximately 31% of men in Switzerland smoke, compared to around 23% of women. Smoking is also more common among foreign nationals (around 31%) as opposed to Swiss nationals (around 25%).
Additionally, it’s estimated that some 9,000 people in Switzerland die due to tobacco-related causes. That accounts for 15% of all deaths in the country, which is honestly a scary percentage that perfectly illustrates just how high tobacco consumption is in this European country.
On top of that, even though the overall percentage of smokers is declining in Switzerland, there’s a concerning increase in young smokers. From 1992 to 2012 there was an increase of 5.2% among smokers aged 18-24.
Is Smoking Allowed in Switzerland?
Smoking is allowed in Switzerland as long as you’re doing it outdoors. It’s forbidden to smoke in enclosed spaces, so restaurants, cafes, bars, clubs, indoor train stations, and office spaces. However, it’s important to keep in mind that smoking isn’t regulated that much on a federal level, and that, for the most part, it’s up to the cantons to decide on what rules and policies they want to implement for tobacco smoking.
I’ll get into those specifics a little later, but what that essentially means is that you might be able to find a smoking-friendly cafe or a restaurant in some parts of the country.
The major rule is that smoking is not allowed in spaces that are larger than 80 m2, and some cafes and bars that are very small spaces will allow smoking in order to attract more customers. Other cafes will have designated smoking areas in addition to smoke-free zones, and some places will have an entire room just for smokers, but they’re not allowed to bring any food or drink into that room.
Another thing to note is that most hotels in Switzerland still have the option of smoking and non-smoking rooms. Some hotels will have only non-smoking rooms but allow smoking on the terraces, whereas others will forbid it entirely. There are even some hotels that have entire smoking floors, and it’s really up to the establishment to decide what kind of practice it wants to implement.
For the most part, smoking in Switzerland can’t be done if you’re indoors, but you’re free to smoke as many cigarettes as you want – simultaneously even – if you’re doing it outdoors. People still smoke while walking on the street, waiting for trams and buses, hanging out at the lake, and at outdoor terraces of cafes and restaurants.
That’s one thing to keep in mind; if you’re trying to avoid cigarette smoke entirely, it’s best to look for a place that forbids it completely. Otherwise, you need to deal with the fact that, if you choose to sit at an outdoor restaurant table, there’s a good chance you’ll do some passive smoking while you’re there.
Smoking Regulations & Policies in Switzerland
Switzerland doesn’t have too many regulations concerning smoking. It’s forbidden indoors in offices with more than one person, restaurants, cafes, bars, and on public transport. However, it’s up to the cantons to implement other regulations and policies regarding smoking, so the rules are different depending on the Swiss region.
Another rule that Switzerland has in place is that health warnings must be displayed on cigarette packs. There’s a set of 14 images that are rotated, and these images take up approximately 56% of the total cigarette pack. It’s very similar to what other European countries are doing to discourage smoking, but it doesn’t seem to be making a major impact in reducing the number of new smokers.
Geneva has implemented some of the strictest rules regarding outside smoking, in an attempt to minimize how much the youngest population is exposed to second-hand smoke. It’s forbidden to smoke close to playgrounds, schools, and on bus stops. This has appeased some of the non-smoker population, but it’s only the beginning of finding a solution to this problem.
Additionally, most cantons have littering fines in place. If a person is caught throwing cigarette butts onto the street, they can be fined 100 CHF on the spot. But they’re not always fined; sometimes they’ll get a warning, they might be forced to pick up the cigarette butt and dispose of it properly, and in some cantons, the police even distribute pocket ashtrays to smokers.
Lawmakers in Switzerland are talking about imposing stricter fines for littering, including improper disposal of cigarette butts. Some suggestions were that the fine should be as high as 300 CHF and that litterers would need to pay on the spot, but this has not been codified yet.
Legal Smoking Age in Switzerland
The cantons are in charge of regulating smoking, so there’s no nationwide legal age for smoking. Depending on the canton, the minimum legal age to buy cigarettes is either 16 or 18. The majority of cantons in Switzerland have made it illegal to sell tobacco products to minors.
However, it’s important to note that the ban extends to e-cigarettes only in 10 cantons. The others are a bit behind in terms of regulating the sales of e-cigarettes and similar products, but that’s to be expected considering that 5 years ago, there were still cantons in which smoking wasn’t regulated at all, as well as those where minors were allowed to purchase tobacco and alcohol products.
Where Can You Buy Cigarettes in Switzerland?
Cigarettes are widely sold in Switzerland and unlike in many other European countries, you don’t have to specifically look for a tobacco shop in order to buy a pack of cigarettes. You can purchase cigarettes in supermarkets, kiosks, gas stations, newsagents, and other, smaller shops.
It’s worth noting that these places sell varieties of tobacco products, including cigarettes, IQOS Heets, cigars, rolling tobacco, and more. You’ll also find e-cigarettes and vapes for sale at these places, although it’s worth noting that none of the electronic cigarettes actually contain nicotine.
Vaping in Switzerland
Vapes are perfectly legal in Switzerland and can be bought at any of the places that normally sell cigarettes. Also, there’s not really a law regulating the minimum legal age to purchase vapes. There is a sort of “codex” where most places won’t sell them to minors, but it’s not guaranteed and there are no real repercussions for stores selling vapes and e-cigarettes to minors.
Also, vapes and e-cigarettes that are sold at shops and supermarkets do not contain nicotine. In fact, nicotine vapes are banned in Switzerland, and it’s not possible to purchase vapor liquids that contain it. This is one step in the right direction because electronic cigarettes and vapor liquids are most appealing to the younger population, particularly those who are just getting into smoking. By removing nicotine from the equation, Switzerland is managing to limit the damage of these products.
For a long time, Switzerland did absolutely nothing to regulate vaping. The cantons only started to implement rules and regulations for e-cigarettes and vapes in 2020, and their number is rather small. Many cantons still haven’t caught up on the need to regulate vaping, which is a bit worrying considering everything that’s happened in the past few years across the world.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there a lot of smokers in Switzerland?
That depends on what you consider a lot; approximately a quarter of Swiss residents are smokers. The number has been steadily declining over the years, but it’s not declining fast enough to make a real difference.
Are cigarettes expensive in Switzerland?
Everything is expensive in Switzerland but cigarettes are kind of an exception. A pack of cigarettes can cost anywhere from 3.5 CHF to 9.5 CHF. You can only purchase a pack of cigarettes for 3.5 CHF when the brand is running a special promotion, and the 9.5 CHF packs are generally premium brands that are expensive everywhere in the world. Most other brands of cigarettes fall in the 7-8 CHF per pack price range, which is fairly affordable for Switzerland, especially compared to the prices in other European countries.