Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dear Frau: Save me from the smoke!

Welcome to the latest edition of Dear Frau. It's kind of like Dear Abby, except with an international twist. If you have a question about life in Switzerland, be sure to contact the Frau and maybe your little Frage will be in the next Dear Frau column. And as always, the Frau does not have all the answers and welcomes your solutions to these questions in the comments section.

Dear Frau,

I lovvvvvvvvvvvvve Switzerland. It's beautiful, safe, and clean. But why is it that a person cannot walk down the streets of Bern or Zurich without having cigarette smoke sprayed in their face. I am constantly bombarded by the vile smoke while eating at outdoor cafes, walking down the street, and waiting for a train. What do you suggest I do or say the next time this occurs?


An American Who Lives in and Loves Switzerland

Dear An American Who Lives in and Loves Switzerland,

The Frau is also fed up with living in a cloud of smoke. Or is that fog?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell in Switzerland. The sky is always gray no matter what.


That’s how you tell.

Anyway, the Frau has had clothes ruined, had to change offices, and endured red eyes all so a bunch of Swiss people could voluntarily give themselves cancer.

Even though we Americans learned at a young age that the mere sight of a cigarette might kills us, the Swiss don’t care because despite their habits, they have the fourth longest life expectancy in the world.

Maybe you’ve seen some of them hiking the Alps in that not-so-fresh-anymore mountain air. One of them was once my father-in-law. Sorry. He wanted to be more Swiss.

Anyhow, let’s get to the point. Your question was what to do or say. The Frau doesn’t really know what to tell you because anyone that buys something that clearly says “it kills” on the package is probably beyond help. But here are some things the Frau and her friends have done for the cause, including the various Swiss responses:

Test One: Put up an ad campaign in her Zurich office showing images of non-smokers’ lungs vs. smokers’ lungs with labels matching appropriate employee names with the images.

Response from chain-smoking boss: Laugh. Cough. Laugh. Nice try, but that crap doesn’t work with me. Puff.

The Frau’s response: Fine, she wants a new office.

Test Two: A Swiss friend asked a man smoking a cigar at a soccer game in Basel to please put it out so the Frau could sing the American national anthem without choking.

Response from cigar smoker: Ok. Puff. Put out cigar under seat.

The Frau’s response: The most she’s ever cheered at a soccer game.

Test Three: Gave dirty look to man smoking in train car.

Response: He went out into the hallway and continued smoking there.

The Frau’s response: Bathroom break. The air smelled better there.

Other ways to protest when you get smoked on: Fart. Spit. Spray air freshener.

Fight back, non-smokers, fight back.

The good news is that it has now been many decades since science proved that smoking sucks, so now that an extremely long time has passed, some restaurants and bars in Switzerland are finally listening. Change is good, Switzerland. Really.

And look on the bright side. Those cigarette butts give the street sweeper a reason for being. He needs one, poor guy.

How do you respond to all this Swiss smoke?


M'dame Jo said...

Dear An American Who Lives in and Loves Switzerland,

it would have been much worse if you have moved here a decade ago. Trains had smokers cars, there were absolutely no restaurants or clubs that were non-smoking. It was allowed to smoke inside in malls, universities, tea rooms, you name it. And we hadn't even started to talk about bans.

Now, most of these places are non-smoking and a good portion of Switzerland has non-smoking bans - even though there seems to be more resistance in the Alemanic part - see a previous post from OBY.

The result is that you're only complaining about outdoor smoking in your letter. So, well, it probably won't get "better" than that. I think the changes in the last few years are good. And as long as someone is not blowing smoke directly into your face, I'm sorry it's bothering you, but I fear that you'll have to accept smokers smoking outside.

That said, the percentage of smokers is about 30% here and slightly above 20% in the US. It's not that much worse. But one of the side effects of the bans on indoor smoking is that outdoor cafés have become even more valuable spots to smokers...

Good luck!

Chantal said...

I think it also seems worse to Americans here because instead of being in our cars and driving everywhere, we're on train platforms and walking around cities.

But I do think it would be nice if the train stations banned smoking. Because it's pretty gross in these stations. And I think smokers could also be a bit more considerate here--I've had people blowing smoke across my dinner when I'm trying to eat.

M'dame Jo said...

I understand. Smoking cars in trains were gross. Many smokers actually traveled in non-smoking cars and just went in a smoking one to have a cigarette. It was that disgusting. Now, I'm not in favor of banning smoking on platforms, even though I do agree that it's really unpleasant to have someone smoking in your face a 7.30 am when you're waiting for your train, it wouldn't solve the problem. The front of the station would be crowded with smokers and you'd have to cross it anyway. But yes, 1000 times, yes, smokers need to be more considerate of non-smokers and try to imagine how unpleasant that can be. And go a bit further to smoke or avoid it if it's crowded. Same with someone blowing smoke into your face or next to you while you're eating, that just rude.

Do you think maybe in Baden or Zurich people take smoking so much for granted that they don't bother? Because frankly, around here, I do see people asking their neighbors who're having lunch if they mind the smoking or at least trying to keep their smoke out of the way of others.

Banning smoking indoors is the best thing that has happened in a while, but if there was a bit more consideration from smokers and a bit more tolerance from non-smokers (I don't say letting smoke bother you, just admit that some open space could be shared with smokers), it would be easy for everyone. The chance of attitude towards smokers is quite recent, it's maybe just a reaction, everyone will adapt and change their attitude. Maybe.

Chantal said...

Madame Jo,

I don't know if the outlook on smoking is different in the French-speaking region. Maybe someone that has experience living in both places could comment. I would imagine it is, considering the fact that Geneva passed smoking laws way before Zurich. The mentality seems a bit different.

KiKi said...

Thanks Frau. I will put your suggestions to the test ASAP.

M'dame Jo: Yes, I am referring to OUTSIDE smokers. Maybe it's me but I didnt experience this in the states and I lived in NYC and Chicago. Maybe The Frau is correct, us Americans spend more time in our cars. Also, in the US there are designated smoking areas.

My beef is that people in Bern and Zurich will actually blow the smoke in my face. It is always unintentional, but REALLY!

In the end, I will try to be more tolerant of smokers. After all, they gave up alot for us:)

Chantal said...

Hi cami,

Glad Frau could help :-)

I agree that I've gotten more smoke in the face here than ever in the U.S. But then again, I'm outside more than I ever was in the U.S. too. And I also live in an apartment building versus a house. That makes a big difference as well.

Anonymous said...

One thing that has worked in Budapest (where I live, and where smoking is also the national sport) has been to comment directly to restaurant managers -- what a nice place it is, how good the food is, but unfortunately you couldn't enjoy it because of the smoke. Another thing that I was surprised to see work was the influence of online reviews (local sites or on TripAdvisor) complaining about smoke in restaurants. I know of a couple places that have switched to non-smoking as a result.

Chantal said...

Thanks for the info. TripAdvisor might be a good tool to use. And also talking to the management. It doesn't hurt to try!

Caitie said...

I really noticed the smoke on the streets, when I got here. To be fair though, I did move here from British Columbia which might have (I don't know) some of the strictest anti-smoking legislation anywhere. I don't even know if the rest of Canada follows similar mandates.

Obviously there's no smoking indoors in public areas, restaurants, public transport, etc... You're also not allowed to smoke within 2 meters (?? think that's the distance) of an entrance to ANY public buildings. Also, if you go into any store that sells cigarettes, you certainly won't see them on display because it recently became a law all cigarettes must be kept under cover and not visible to the consumer.

When my co-worker found out about this latest anti-smoking law, she shook her head mournfully and said "smokers are a dying breed". We had a good laugh over the intended pun.

So, I came from a pretty extreme anti-smoking environment and of course noticed smoke on the streets. But so far my limited experience dining on public patios in Bern has been fine. We've always been asked by the person beside us if we mind them smoking. I was surprised they even asked.

If the smoke gets to me at the train station or bus stop, I just try to stand up-wind ;-)

Great topic.

Do any of you think a lot of the Swiss teens seem to smoke? I was surprised at the number of teens I saw smoking, but again....I came from a province that has sunk major $$ in its fight against smoking, and the results are showing.

Chantal said...


Thank Cami for the topic. And for contacting The Frau. ;-)

I have noticed a lot of Swiss teens smoking. They all go to Denner at 15.30 and buy cigarettes and energy drinks. Some of them look really young but then again I'm getting old :-)

It's really too bad that more doesn't seem to be done to stop teens from smoking.

M'dame Jo said...

About the teens: The teenage smoking rate has never been that low. There have been more and more campaigns (haven't seen one when I was a teenager) and the legal age went up to 18 years old (it was 16 not so long ago, Waadt is the first Kanton to have raised the limit about 5 years ago and I'm actually not sure it's generalized yet). And a few years ago, you could find find cigs is Selecta vending machines everywhere. It's still easy to get cigarettes, but 20 years ago, you could be 8 and buy cigarettes, saying it was for your dad.

I've also read somewhere that it's the first time in decades that a only a small minority of teenagers think smoking is cool.

So it may still be high and maybe not everything is done, but it's getting better. That said, it's true that access to cigarettes is very easy and you can buy cigarettes in any restaurants or clubs around the clock. But, well, BAT and PM are well implanted in the country. Who knows what role that plays...

Chantal said...

It's good to hear the number of teens smoking is small. It just seems like there are a lot--probably because the teens that are smoking are also the ones loitering.

Well, Philip Morris' headquarters are in Richmond, VA and they've managed to ban smoking in VA. Anything is possible.

M'dame Jo said...

Well, it's still too high, it's about 20% in the 14-19 y.o. range. But it used to be higher.

About PM and BAT, I agree that can't be the only reason. For instance, PM has its operations center in Lausanne and Waadt is a non-smoking Kanton and BAT is in Bern, which is also a non-smoking Kanton. Honestly, I don't know what the Federal government has such a hard time having a more strict law.

The federal law is valid since May 2010. Have you seen a difference? (I haven't as the law here is more strict.)

Chantal said...

We have noticed a big difference--like today we went to a big shopping center in Wettington and no one was smoking at the Coop restaurant anymore so the entire shopping center smelled better! Some changes are good!

Allison L said...

Saw Toy Story 3 in Zurich and granted it was a 9pm showing they had a cigarette advertisement before the movie. It just shocked me and I've noticed way to many young adults puffing away on their cancer sticks.

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