The Proportionality of Tobacco Packaging Restrictions on Autonomous Communication, Political Expression and Commercial Speech

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The Lanyon Building, QUB
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The Summer 2018 volume of the Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly has been published this morning. Just in time for tomorrow’s seminar, and building on my earlier paper in the QUT Law Review, it contains the following piece by me:

“A Little Parthenon No Longer: The Proportionality of Tobacco Packaging Restrictions on Autonomous Communication, Political Expression and Commercial Speech” (2018) 69(2) Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 175-211

Abstract
This paper evaluates the constitutionality of statutory restrictions upon tobacco packing in Ireland. It concludes that public health and the protection of children constitute pressing and substantial reasons sufficient to justify the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Act 2015 and Part 5 of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2017 as proportionate restrictions upon tobacco companies’ freedom of political expression protected by Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution and freedom of autonomous communication protected by Article 40.3.1.

In many respects, Ireland has been a world leader in tobacco control, from banning smoking in the workplace or in cars with children, to requiring standardised packaging. Part 1 introduces this article; it sets out the background to the 2015 and 2017 packaging legislation. Part 2 of this article, on restrictions, describes the restrictions in the packaging legislation. Part 3 of this article, on rights, provides a conspectus of the Irish constitutional speech rights engaged or burdened by these restrictions. This Part presents these rights as comprising a freedom of political expression in Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution and a freedom of autonomous communication in Article 40.3.1. Moreover, these two rights carry concomitant rights to keep silent and to be informed. Part 4 of this article, on reasons, considers the pressing and substantial reasons which the State may proffer to seek to justify the restrictions in the packaging legislation upon constitutional speech rights. Part 5 of this article, on standards of review, considers the extent to which the restrictions in the packaging legislation, motivated by concerns relating to public health and the protection of children, satisfy the current Irish version of the principle of proportionality. It also considers the extent to which the restrictions might satisfy other standards of review or scrutiny. Part 6 concludes this article, bringing together all of the strands of analysis in the previous Parts. And it concludes that, if the restrictions on constitutional speech rights in the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Act 2015 and in Part 5 of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2017 are challenged by the tobacco companies, the courts will find that those Acts are constitutionally valid.

Attractive packaging is an important element of a product’s effective marketing. Indeed, so central has packaging been to the allure of smoking that Leonard Cohen could extol “the little Parthenon / of an opened pack of cigarettes”. Ireland has been in the vanguard of tobacco control worldwide. With the 2015 and 2017 packaging legislation, it continues to set a very important example. The constitutional validity of these packaging restrictions would underpin a crucial element of the Department of Health’s moves towards tobacco-free Ireland by 2025. And the pack of cigarettes, with large warning photos dominating standardized packaging, would be Cohen’s little Parthenon no longer.

An earlier version of the paper, under the title “Is Standardised Tobacco Packing a Proportionate Restriction on Constitutional Speech Rights”, was delivered at the ICON-S British and Irish Chapter Inaugural Conference, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, on 5 September 2017.

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