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Politics

Swiss vote down smoking ban; regions weigh tax breaks

Switzerland has voted against a strict smoking ban in restaurants and bars. Several regional plebiscites also let voters decide if they would continue to allow foreigners to reside in Switzerland with a hefty tax break.

Most of Switzerland's 26 cantons opposed the proposal to tighten controls on smoking in restaurants and bars.

Only Geneva voted slightly in favor of the anti-smoking initiative. Voters in the other 25 cantons voted by an overwhelming 66 percent majority to reject it, according to an estimate published by the news agency ATS.

If passed, the initiative would have prohibited smoking in all bars and restaurants, rather than allow proprietors to set aside special rooms as they do under the current system or to use loopholes allowing smoking in small premises.

Switzerland introduced a federal ban on smoking in enclosed workplaces and public spaces two years ago, but the law change allowed exceptions which some local authorities have used.

Swiss business and hotelier associations welcomed Sunday's rejection, saying the initiative would have imposed extra costs on their members.

The Socialist party said it "deplored" the result, saying bystanders and hospitality workers remained at risk from passive smoking.

Taxation referendum also under way

In what is predicted to be a much closer vote, residents in the Bern canton, home to Gstaad - a playground for rich expats - and the canton of Basel-Landschaft were deciding on Sunday whether to eliminate a system under which foreigners pay a lump tax on their spending rather than their earnings.

That tax break was eliminated in three cantons in 2009. Subsequently in 2010, 5,445 foreigners paid 668 million Swiss francs (550 million euros, $715 million) in taxes, or an average of a little over 120,000 euros each.

"These lump sum taxes have become a boon for a lot of trustees," the Socialist lawmaker Margret Kiener Nellen told the Swiss press.

"At Gstaad, for example, there are 13 multimillionaire Greek families that pay ridiculously low taxes. It's scandalous."

mkg/ipj (AFP, dpa)