Swiss voters will vote in a referendum on Sunday to decide a range of issues from banning animal testing to increased financial support for local media to tougher tobacco restrictions.
Polling stations for in-person voting on referendum questions, which are part of the country’s direct democracy system, open at 10:00 a.m. (0900 UTC). However, most Swiss voters have already voted by post.
The referendums could have a significant impact on two of the country’s main industries – the pharmaceutical sector and the Swiss-headquartered tobacco giants.
Ban on animal testing
One of the most important measures on the ballot is whether voters will accept a “ban on animal and human experiments.” It would be the first country in the world to ban animal testing.
Animal welfare campaigners collected enough signatures to put the question on the ballot. The initiative calls for a total ban on all animal and human experiments in the future, as well as a ban on imports of any new products developed as a result of animal experiments.
Supporters of the ban say the practice is unnecessary and ethically wrong, calling it “inexcusable”. They argue that researchers are able to create new methods for testing drugs and chemicals without involving animals. They argue that a ban would spur innovation in scientific fields and that pre-ban products would still be allowed to be used.
Opponents of the ban say it would block the import of essential medicines and vaccines
Opponents of the ban, including the Swiss Parliament, say the ban would have far-reaching impacts on the development and production of new drugs, vaccines, therapies and chemicals. They also criticized the initiative for being too vague about the “human experience” part of the ban, saying it’s unclear whether it would ban research in medicine, biology and sports science.
Pharmaceutical giants Roche and Novartis say animal testing is still needed to develop new drugs. Opponents also say that big companies could choose to leave Switzerland if the measure is adopted.
About 500,000 animals – including mice, rabbits, rats and others – are killed each year in laboratories in Switzerland.
Analysts say the ban is very unlikely to garner enough support. Recent opinion polls showed it was largely failing, with 68% of those polled opposing the ban.
Restriction of tobacco advertising
Another crucial measure involves putting in place stricter restrictions on tobacco advertising – in particular limiting advertisements where minors are likely to see them.
The measure would ban tobacco advertisements on billboards, newspapers, cinemas, cultural events, as well as online.
Campaigners who support the measure say loose tobacco advertising regulations have hampered efforts to reduce tobacco use in the country – where more than 25% of adults use tobacco products.
Compared to other European countries, Swiss rules on tobacco advertising are particularly lax. Advertisements for tobacco products are largely legal nationwide, except on television and radio.
The major tobacco companies are headquartered in Switzerland – including the world’s largest tobacco company, Philip Morris International – and they have long pushed to keep advertising regulations light.
The Swiss government and tobacco companies oppose the measure, arguing it goes too far and could impact advertising for other industries. The government has drawn up counter proposals that would limit advertising, but still allow it online as well as in shops and newspapers.
The anti-tobacco campaign is more likely to succeed, with opinion polls showing 63% support. However, to pass, the binding measure would need the support of a majority of Switzerland’s 26 regions, called cantons.
Financial support for Swiss media
Voters will also be asked to support or reject a new law that would provide additional public funding to Swiss media companies.
The law aims to prevent the closure of more local newspapers and radio stations in the Alpine nation by providing aid of 151 million Swiss francs (144 million euros; $163 million).
The government argues that state funding is needed to help struggling media companies whose advertising revenues have been hit hard in recent years and who have struggled with the transition to digital media.
The ‘No’ campaign, which is backed by right-wing parties, argues the proposal would be a waste of public money and says it would mainly benefit big media groups.
This measure will be the closest race in Sunday’s poll, although recent polls show the “No” campaign slightly ahead, with 49% against media funding, and 46% in favor.
rs/wd (Reuters, AFP)