Is smoking a human right?

This is a question I asked a while ago on Instagram and Facebook:

What do the following dates have in common:

  • Dec 11, 2005
  • May 1, 2010
  • June 1, 2019

Answer: They are major milestones in Switzerland’s (non) smoking culture. 


The 2005 date is when SBB (Swiss Railway Company) got rid of "smoker's wagons". 

Up to that date there would be wagons equipped with red seats, where you were allowed to smoke. The green seating meant non-smoking, Of course there would always be passengers basically jumping on the departing train. Smoking cigarette still in their hands,  they would walk through the crowded green department to get to their red seats, where there'd be typically enough empty seats. 

In 2010 the federal law against passive smoking finally came into effect, meaning no more smoking in the workplace as well as in public spaces such as restaurants, clubs, shopping centers, cinemas, airports and schools (really? I can't remember any of my fellow students smoking in class!?) 

Prior to that you'd shower, get dressed up for a night out and end up coming home throwing all your smelly clothes in the hamper. Restaurants were the worst. Imagine you're hungry, you're waiting for your delicious meal only to experience your fellow patrons at the next table lighting up. Yuck!

Some restaurants had non-smoking sections. You'd walk through a cloud of smoke to get to your table, but at least your neighbours would leave your immediate air space clean.

As of the beginning of this month - for future reference: June 2019 -  there is no more smoking at railway stations, especially platforms. Or so I thought. I don’t use public transportation very often, but when I do, I'd certainly appreciate a smoke free experience.

Over the course of 2018 four different train stations were part of a pilot project. Apparently things went well, and it was communicated that as of 2019 it smoke free train stations were going to be rolled out nationwide.

Sadly the main reason to push for smoke free train stations was not to make it more healthy and convenient for the passengers. It was in order to save cleaning costs. 

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

All the butt picking seemed to have added up to CHF (=USD) 4 millions a year. No wonder train fare is so expensive!

So what I thought was going to happen: 

There'd be promo people, not students, more like senior security guard types, in yellow vests, handing out flyers that say "as of June 1st, there's no more smoking at the train stations, thanks for your cooperation and understanding. Please refer to the maps that display designated smoker zones." (Which would be in confined areas, far, far away from the main non smoking population.

There'd be posters all over that say something along the lines of "we're cleaning up the air for everyone, thank you for not smoking at this railway station."

Now of course I was expecting too much. After all we're in Switzerland.

Instead here's what has been done:

Tons of trash bins with giant ashtrays on top have been set up all over the place:

At the entrance of the train station, which makes sense. An unimposing sign says "thank you for disposing of your cigarette here." 

OK, catch flies with honey. No need to slap forbidden signs all over if people get the message.

Again at (tr)ash bins right at the front of every platform. For those who didn't think we meant  business. 

Keep walking on the platform. About every 15 meters (50 feet) there's yet another ashtray. 

Are you kidding me? So they're basically still smoking everywhere!?


They achieved exactly what they were aiming for: not having to pay for people who clean up the cigarette butts on the platforms and train tracks. 

Never mind the passenger's well-being. Thanks for nothing.

This is a typical example for how things in Switzerland work; nobody wants to piss off certain groups of citizens and agree upon a compromise. Which will piss off other groups of citizens. 

You may know me as a very agreeable, peace loving person, and I am. The fun stops at smoking, though. I am a bit of a hardliner there.  

What probably bothers me most is that "the smokers" (and there are really nice people among them, and I have friends who smoke, and I love them dearly, don't get me wrong) think it's their human right to smoke when and where they please.

  • At the entrance of the mall. 
  • Right in front of the main office door. 
  • In parking garages. 
  • In front of clothing stores where shop keepers have their teaser racks.  
  • Next to food booths. 
  • In non-smoking hotel rooms.
  • At concerts and other outdoor venues.
  • In their car - which is fine, until they throw their (cigarette) butts out of the open window.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

So the smokers say: "it's forbidden everywhere, where the hell should we go?" 
And: "quit the effing patronizing already. After all we're financing your pension."

Haha, yes, that's true.

In Switzerland cigarettes are heavily taxed, and parts go in fact towards the state old pension.

These days a pack of cigarettes costs CHF (=UDS) 8, and 60% of this price consists in tobacco tax.

On the other hand: us non-smokers (67% of Swiss citizens, mind you) finance their lung cancer treatments with our health insurance premiums. Plus we cover for them at work when they take lenghty smoke breaks and when they suffer from yet another common cold.

So to wrap it up: smoking is a nasty, unhealthy habit. If you want or have to maintain it, do it where others aren't bothered by it. 

Thank you! You might appreciate the clean air yourself :-)

Photo by Carmine Savarese on Unsplash


  1. As a former smoker who now can't even stand the smell, you're so right to complain about these inconsiderate types! Europe has always been more tolerant of this filthy habit, as a greater number of people still seem to smoke there. Canada has strict no-smoking laws and you have to be far away from any building or platform to do it. We cheered long and loud when it was also banned from outdoor patios a few years ago! There's nothing like dining al fresco, when a cloud of smoke drifts into your face. :P

  2. I remember smoking in restaurants and public places. California has pretty much banned smoking most places. It took a while. But nowadays you don't see it much. We pretty much ignore the smokers who complained.

    As for smoking in school, the kiddos were never allowed to do it. The law had always been no one under 18.

  3. That converts to $11.65 Australian for a pack which is hugely cheap. Here a pack of 20 cigarettes is $27.50 (according to the shop I just googled). The tax is 69% .

    We have really strict smoking laws - a ban on smoking in all indoor dining areas was introduced in 1999. As of 2005, smoking was banned in all enclosed public places, workplaces and shared areas.

    There is also a four metre smoke-free zone around building entrances. It's also banned within 10 metres of children's play equipment in outdoor public spaces. AS well as spectator areas at sports grounds or other recreational areas, swimming pool complexes, railway platforms, light rail stops, light rail stations, bus stops, taxi ranks and ferry wharves. Since 2009 it's been illegal to smoke in a car with someone under the age of 16.

    Since December 2012 it's also law that all forms of branding logos, colours, and promotional texts are banned from cigarette pack designs. In turn they were replaced with drab dark brown packets and graphic images of smoking-related disease (and they are graphic - really gross).

  4. I could never understand the smoking (for want of a better term) culture. To see someone out standing in the beautiful, clear air of a summer morning with a cigarette in their hand.
    It just never made sense to me.
    Yep. I'm shaking my head over this new program as well!
    I still don't' get it.

  5. Love your post and unique take on smoking and how the train stations are handling the problem. It's not really something we in the US think about too much anymore. In fact, I guess I'm young enough that I can't even really remember smoking sections in restaurants! (Except for the random only-open-to-18+ bars that still allow cigarettes.) Smoking is the worst. I always feel like I'm struggling to breathe when someone around me is smoking…


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