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Original article

Vol. 151 No. 5152 (2021)

Taxation options for nicotine and tobacco products in Switzerland – a review of tax policies

  • Larissa Merz
  • Milo A. Puhan
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2021;151:w30083


Alternative nicotine products such as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and tobacco heating systems have gained worldwide popularity. Findings suggest ENDS to be probably less harmful than combustible cigarettes, but evidence on long-term health effects is still lacking. The potential risk reduction by using tobacco heating systems instead of combustible cigarettes has largely been studied by tobacco industry-sponsored research. Evidence on the extent of risk reduction is key for risk-adapted taxation policies, which will be discussed soon in the Swiss parliament. Evidence on the effects of tax policies in the USA shows that the level of taxation of ENDS, tobacco heating systems and combustible cigarettes has an effect on switches between these products. Therefore, excise taxes influencing one another need to be considered. In Switzerland, tobacco heating systems are currently taxed at a level of 12%, whereas ENDS are not subject to tobacco excise taxation as yet, because they do not meet the legal definition of a tobacco product. This article analyses approaches for imposing taxes on tobacco and nicotine products and possible outcomes, depending on the intended public health goals.

At least three tax models can be considered. Tax model A would apply a very small tax on ENDS and a higher tax for tobacco products, which could increase incentives for smokers to switch to vaping but comes with risks of increased vaping initiation among the youth and subsequent switch to or dual use of tobacco products. In contrast, model B would levy a moderate tax on ENDS and an increased tax on tobacco products, which could limit initiation among youth, incentivise to switch from smoking to vaping and discourage dual use. In model C, a comparable tax level for ENDS, tobacco heating systems and combustible cigarettes is levied. This could have overall positive effects in reducing tobacco- and nicotine-associated burden of disease by discouraging initiation in youth, overall consumption and dual use, but could discourage switching to less harmful products. When applying these tax models to current sales prices of these products we found that no public health goal, such as protecting youth and reducing tobacco-associated morbidity and mortality can be achieved. The price of tobacco products is too low to achieve any price differentiation that reflects the different risks associated with ENDS and tobacco products. In order to achieve any public health goal with one of these tax models, prices for tobacco products need to be increased substantially.


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