Water on the smoke

In line with the international trend, smoking bans in bars and restaurants entered into force throughout Switzerland on May 1. In a majority of cantons the change was hardly noticeable because cantonal legislation in this area had already been introduced:

Ticino was the first canton to adopt smoking bans, just a few months after they were implemented in Italy. It took about a year before other cantons followed suit, but then smoking bans spread quite quickly. A parliamentary initiative was put forward at the federal level in June 2007 and the law was passed in October 2008.

This pattern illustrates a few interesting points made in the policy diffusion literature.

First, policies can diffuse across levels, in this case from countries (Italy) to subnational units (Ticino) and then back to countries (Switzerland). In an article published in 2006, Charles Shipan and Craig Volden focused on the bottom-up side of this process and argued that widespread adoption at lower levels of government increases the probability of adoption at higher levels (“snowball effect”) if the legislature is highly professionalized, but it decreases it for less professionalized legislatures, which consider that the problem is already solved and no action is needed (“pressure-valve effect”).

Second, the diffusion of policies can be triggered by evidence that they are politically feasible. In Italy, the implementation of smoking bans was surprisingly unproblematic. It is not a coincidence that Ticino was the first canton to pass this type of legislation. The Italian example helped to convince that smoking bans would work also elsewhere. As the NZZ commented, “what was possible without much trouble in Italy should be a piece of cake in Ticino.”

Third, the burden of proof has shifted over time: in 2005, it was harder to argue in favor of smoking bans than against them. Today, opponents of smoking bans face a much more difficult taks than their proponents. With reference to Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink’s classic article, the anti-smoking norm is well past the “emergence” phase, deep in the “cascade” stage and possibly even approaching “internalization.” Like smoking on airplanes or in theaters is nowadays almost inconceivable, smoking in restaurant will be soon fully accepted by most people.

What does this mean for the future of smoking bans in Switzerland (and elsewhere)? A counterattack has already been launched, but their widespread adoption, evidence of their political feasibility, and their strong (and growing) normative acceptance mean that smoking bans are here to stay.

(See also the comment over at polithink.)

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