Can you guess from which age a child can legally purchase cigarettes in Geneva? 15 years? 18 years? Perhaps even older? I bet not many of you would have guessed that a child can buy tobacco here as soon as it is able to walk and talk. There is absolutely no restrictions. You could, if you wanted to, send your toddler into a shop to buy your cigarettes.
This really threw me, when I heard it on the news yesterday. The legal age from which children are able to buy cigarettes is set by the Cantons, the Swiss states, not the central government. Which means that you may be able to send your three year old for cigarettes in Geneva, but if you go to neighbouring Vaud, you will have to wait 15 years until your child is 18 years old.
When I mentioned this to friends last night, two of them said that they often see children as young as 13 or 14 years old smoking. Both of these friends live near high schools in Geneva.
Today I searched for information about smoking in Switzerland, and found this:
Most 11-13 year olds in Switzerland have never smoked, only 10% of 11 year old and 31% of 13 year olds have tried smoking
9% of 13 year olds smoke
25% of 15 year olds smoke
When asked if they smoke regularly, ie. weekly or daily, 4% of 13 year olds , and 17% of 15 year olds admitted to doing so.
I wondered about that, and how it compares with other countries, so searched and found research from the Child And Adolescent Research Unit in Edinburgh which has collated information on children’s health and wellbeing throughout Europe.
Many more children in Scotland try smoking at an early age. Around 4% of 11 year olds and 19% of 13 year olds have tried smoking
6 % of 13 year olds smoke
18% of 15 year olds smoke
When asked if they smoke regularly, ie. weekly or daily, 4% of 13 year olds , and 10% of 15 year olds admitted to doing so. The figures in Scotland are split into girls/boys so show slight variations to the Swiss ones. (PDFs)
I was certainly surprised that Switzerland, with it’s clean and healthy image, has more under-age smokers than Scotland.
Does the availability of cigarettes make it easier for children to smoke? Perhaps. In Scotland you cannot walk up to a cigarette machine, put your money in and pull out a packet of cigarettes. Making cigarettes more difficult to buy could well help prevent so many Swiss children smoking.
To do that they would have to either remove the machines, or do what they have done in Germany. A few years ago they introduced a new system that to buy cigarettes from a machine, you have to enter a bank card (or a drivers license) with electronic chip that has the age of the holder saved on it. Not foolproof, but certainly a step in the right direction.
My eldest child is 9 years old, and the thought of her lighting up her first fag in just over a year is pretty scary. Looks like we shall have to have a little chat soon about the dangers of smoking.