Freedom of Commercial Expression and Public Health Protection in Europe
Cambridge Yearbook of European Legal Studies
This chapter focuses on the extent to which public health has been relied upon by the EU legislature or by Member States of the European Union to limit the freedom of commercial operators to promote their goods and services. First, it discusses why courts in the United States and in Europe have ruled that the freedom of commercial operators to advertise their goods and services should be protected, in light of the fundamental role advertising plays in a liberal market economy. It shows that
... dom of commercial expression has been made conditional upon the disclosure of sufficient and reliable information to consumers, thus reflecting a model of consumer protection based on the well-informed and reasonably circumspect consumer. Secondly, it addresses the more controversial question of the extent to which public health may be invoked as an overriding requirement of public interest to curtail the right of commercial operators to promote their goods and services. The approach of the Court of Justice is compared with that taken by the US Supreme Court. This comparative approach highlights the differences between the two: the former is very reluctant to exercise its review powers, while the latter has made it excessively difficult for public authorities to impose any meaningful advertising restrictions. It is argued that neither court has been able to strike a suitable balance between, one the one hand, the need to review the validity of restrictions imposed by public authorities on commercial speech to ensure a high level of public health protection and, one the other hand, the need to ensure that courts do not substitute their assessment to that of the legislature in exercising their judicial review powers. A more balanced approach is required to ensure the adequate protection of consumer health.