Votation populaire

Today, tobacco. Tomorrow, cervelat!

If there is one thing that is precious to the Swiss, it is their cervelat. It rivals the national dish of fondue in terms of popularity. But while this smokey version of the Frankfurter sausage is a cut above the good old American hot dog, I must confess it hardly sparks the same emotion in me.

Living in Switzerland we are inundated by ads for what is called the ‘votation populaire’. The Swiss love to go to the polls, and every few months or so, a popular initiative gains sufficient support for the council to organize a referendum. Usually there are several topics bundled together. At the moment, the one getting the most attention involves the legislation around tobacco advertising.

The above billboard suggesting that a ban on cigarette advertising could lead to one on cervelat is certainly attention-grabbing. I mean, who is not going to look twice at a crossed-out sausage?

Switzerland has got to be one of the few countries that still allows cigarette advertising. Not so surprising considering it is the headquarters of so many tobacco companies. The current initiative seeks to ban any form of tobacco advertising that could be seen by children. Which seems like a no-brainer. And yet, the Swiss Council is advising its citizens to vote against it. From what I understand, they want to pass their own draft legislation which provides a bit more wiggle room.

Freedom of speech is pretty important to me and I tend to side with the conservative Swiss on keeping things flexible. But I think it only makes sense to outlaw the promotion of carcinogenic recreational-use products to children. And to regulate access. When I first started smoking as a young teenager, an inciting factor was the sheer availability of cigarettes. Not just those I filched from my parents’ packs, but the ones I bought at cigarette machines.

Not long ago I saw one these dinosaurs at a local restaurant.

For us the whole debate is interesting to watch but we have no stake in the game. As mere residents here we are not allowed to vote.

However I have begun thinking about how I will vote in the upcoming French presidential election. Not only for which candidate but how to go about it. As a citizen of France, even one living abroad, I have the right (nay, duty) to vote, and I plan to exercise it in April. We have registered with the French embassy in Zurich and should receive details on how to vote soon.

When was the last time you voted?


  1. margaret21 · February 11, 2022

    We always vote. Of course, we’re only talking about general and local elections. And That Referendum. But our First-past-the-post system means that our vote counts for nothing at all. The Man We Don’t Want gets in every time.

    • MELewis · February 11, 2022

      Ah, I can see that would be hugely frustrating. 😒 At least with two rounds in France we get to choose the lesser of evils.

      • margaret21 · February 11, 2022

        Exactly. But the two main parties – especially the present incumbents – have litt;e interest in changing the system.

  2. midihideaways · February 11, 2022

    In many countries, the right to vote for all citizens has not always been a given, so it’s as much a privilege as an obligation to go to the polls. Not being French I can only vote in the local and European elections in France, but I also have the right to vote in the parliamentary elections in Germany – a right which I exercised in the last election 🙂 Sometimes I feel that voting can be a little like playing the lottery – I don’t always like the outcome 🙂 But at least voting is free AND it is important to participate!

    • MELewis · February 11, 2022

      So true! The line between a right and an obligation is a fine one. Glad to hear you still participate in the German elections from abroad. I think it is also a way of keeping close contact with your home country. To be honest, I never even tried once I left Canada but perhaps I will look into it. Even if it is, as you say, a matter of luck and also a bit of, ‘be careful what you wish for!’ 😅

      • midihideaways · February 11, 2022

        For the longest time I didn’t think it was important to exercise my right to vote in Germany. Then I looked at all the UK citizens who were disenfranchised for living outside their native country for more than 15 years, and I thought, this is something I HAVE to do! Each time I have to justify why I want to exercise my right to vote, having not lived in Germany for so long, but I’ve not yet been refused!

  3. Taste of France · February 11, 2022

    I remember when France outlawed smoking in public places (no vote), and our French friends, all ex-smokers, fretted that it would lead to the ruin of cafés and restaurants, plus it was people’s free choice. After the ban, the same people were elated to go to restaurants and cafés without being in other people’s smoke, and that their own freedom was finally respected. I wish the ban would extend to terraces.
    As for voting, always, and even did phone banking for a campaign.

    • MELewis · February 11, 2022

      Ha! I remember that too. What a relief! But as you say, now we have to put up with the outdoor spaces being overrun by smokers. At least, that’s my memory in France. I must say it doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue in this part of Switzerland, even though the number of smokers is statistically quite high. Probably a matter of density. P.S. Did you mean phone voting?

      • Taste of France · February 19, 2022

        A phone bank used to be a “bank” of phones–a campaign would get a bunch of phones (and separate lines) put into a conference room, and then volunteers would sit around the conference table and make calls. Now they do it via VOIP from volunteers’ own homes. Having done the old-fashioned version, I must say the computerized one is much better.

  4. Dale · February 11, 2022

    Wow. That is stunning to me that they do still advertise cigarettes! I guess I’ve gotten so used to it here (hell, the cigarettes sold are behind closed cupboards so you can’t even see all the brands!)
    As for voting, I always do and did just recently.

    • MELewis · February 11, 2022

      I know, eh? For a North American it feels quite shocking, even though it’s limited to print and outdoor ads (no TV or radio). In France too, they had to go to plain packs I think, to prevent any kind of brand influence. Great that you vote! 💪 But then again, I would expect no less!

      • Dale · February 11, 2022

        Cray-cray is what it is!!

  5. acflory · February 13, 2022

    In Australia, voting is compulsory at all three levels of government – local council, state and federal. I truly believe compulsory voting is the best part of our system of governance as it tends to stop extremes from hijacking the political process. Our states have done a fantastic job during the pandemic but the Federal government has been pathetic. I hope people remember that when we vote, probably around about May this year.
    A lot of people think that their one vote doesn’t do much, especially in electorates that are ‘safe seats’ for one side or the other. But that’s not true. Even if we can’t change the outcome for a given ‘safe seat’, we can still send a powerful message by making that seat a little less safe. Elections provide feedback that no politician can ignore.

    • MELewis · February 16, 2022

      Wow, had no idea voting was compulsory. How does that work, exactly? Are there consequences if you don’t vote? 🧐 Of course every vote counts! That is the whole basis of our democratic system, even if it doesn’t always result in a tangible outcome. Crazy that people don’t get it.

      • acflory · February 16, 2022

        There are fines if you don’t vote, but they’re only $50 so I don’t think that’s why 99.9% of Aussies vote. I think we just accept voting as something we have to do…’to keep the bastards honest’. 😀

      • MELewis · February 16, 2022

        Good on you! 😅

  6. Ally Bean · February 13, 2022

    The last restaurant I knew of that had a cigarette machine took it out of the lobby during the pandemic. I don’t smoke but when I realized the machine was gone, I was sad. It was one last piece of my childhood that had disappeared. I vote in all elections.

    • MELewis · February 16, 2022

      I know, it’s funny how we can be nostalgic for such things. Like a juke box or a telephone booth. Glad you vote! 👏👏

  7. Colin Bisset · February 13, 2022

    Australia was one of the first to neutralise packaging for cigarettes to dissuade people from being lured by certain brands – just as I was when I smoked (hated Camels but loved the packaging, same for Gitanes) – so I’m surprised that Switzerland even allows general advertising of them. Do the Swiss smoke more than, say, the French? Can’t say I’ve noticed.

    • MELewis · February 16, 2022

      I’d say fewer people smoke in Switzerland than in France, where I believe the figure is 28%. This is especially noticeable among the younger generation and even more so in the German cantons. But they do offer more accommodations for those who smoke, for example by allowing closed ‘fumoirs’. Probably the influence of all that money from Philip Morris and British American Tobacco. Still, the vote on Sunday went in favour of the ban on ads. A sensible decision!

  8. Vanessa in France · February 20, 2022

    Like you, I am all in favour of free speech, but when it comes to banning advertising products that are detrimental to health, I am in favour of that, too. It’s difficult, though, to know how far advertising influences children and young adults. I would have thought, although I have no firm evidence for this, that young people are more influenced by peer pressure. That’s why I started smoking in my late teens – and hated it, thankfully, so I gave up fairly quickly. I daresay various studies have been done on this.

    As for voting, I believe it’s a duty as well as a right. Women battled for a long time for the vote, and they didn’t get it until 1944 in France. Not being a French citizen, I can only vote in the European and local elections (being Irish as well as British, I have retained that right, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to vote in France at all). I am still considering taking French citizenship as well, after 25 years here, just to get the full vote.

    P.S. cervelat doesn’t do it for me, either!

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