A smoking ban overturned by a federal tribunal may be reinstated only in 2011, according to the health minister for Switzerland's Geneva canton.
Switzerland's highest court overturned a three-month-old ban on smoking in public places in Geneva on Tuesday, saying the move failed to follow proper procedures.
As a result, smokers have been lighting up in restaurants and bars since Tuesday night; despite smoking being prohibited since July 1.
Unger said it could take up to three years to reverse the ruling and restore the ban.
The Federal Tribunal ruled that the ban should not have been passed by the canton's parliamentarians before the state's government enacted legislation, and that it therefore had no legal basis.
Geneva's state government had used a popular vote as grounds for pushing through a canton-wide smoking ban in public places on July 1.
But according to procedures, a draft of the law should first have been passed by the state's parliamentarians.
The judgement, which disputes only the procedure leading to the ban and not the essence of the ban itself, takes immediate effect, meaning patrons can once again light up in restaurants and bars.
To re-enact the ban, Geneva's canton authorities will need its parliamentarians to adopt a draft regulation which could in turn be subject to a referendum.
"This regulation was transitional, knowing that the implementation of a law takes at least two years," Unger continued.
Unger admitted cantonal politicians knew they were "running a slight legislative risk," but said they thought the public health argument and especially the "reasonable authorisation" served up by a referendum in which 80 percent of voters backed the ban were sufficient grounds.
Now, their haste to catch up with the many neighbours that have introduced smoking bans in public places appears to have backfired.
"Given the emotion surrounding the debate, parliament will not adopt the law for at least a year," he said.
With another referendum likely to follow, "the ban will not come into being once again before 2010, and more likely 2011," he said.
Staff and customers in Geneva's cafes said business was brisk on Tuesday evening after the let-off.
"There's no hiding from the fact that people are happy," said Remy, a worker in Les Brasseurs restaurant-bar.
"We should be able to choose between smoking and non-smoking areas," said smoker Milena in a Mexican bar.