¿La salud pública o la libertad individual?

PRINCETON – El mes pasado se tomaron dos decisiones importantes contrastantes. Por un lado, en los Estados Unidos el Tribunal de Apelaciones rechazó la exigencia de la Administración de Alimentos y Fármacos estadounidense (FDA por sus siglas en inglés) de que las cajetillas de cigarros tengan advertencias gráficas sobre los daños a la salud que causa el cigarro, y por otro, en Australia, el máximo Tribunal adoptó una ley que tiene un alcance mucho mayor. La ley australiana exige no solo advertencias sobre los problemas de salud que causa el cigarro e imágenes de los daños físicos que causa fumar, sino también que las cajetillas en sí tengan un fondo liso en el que los nombres de las marcas estén escritos genéricamente con letra pequeña, sin logotipos y en un color verde olivo apagado.

La decisión que se tomó en los Estados Unidos se basa en la protección constitucional a la libertad de expresión. El Tribunal aceptó la posibilidad de que el gobierno exija que se incluyan advertencias objetivas precisas sobre los daños a la salud que causa el cigarro, pero la mayoría en una decisión dividida, señaló que no podía ir más allá y exigir que se incluyeran imágenes. En Australia el tema giraba en torno a si ley implicaba una expropiación sin compensaciones –en este caso, de la propiedad intelectual de las marcas de las compañías tabacaleras. El máximo Tribunal decidió que no.

Sin embargo, el tema más importante es poner de relieve estas diferencias: ¿quién decide cuál es el equilibrio apropiado entre la salud pública y la libertad de expresión? En los Estados Unidos los tribunales toman esa decisión básicamente mediante la interpretación de un texto que data de hace 225 años, y si esa interpretación deja al gobierno sin algunas técnicas que podrían reducir las muertes causadas por fumar – que actualmente se estiman en 443,000 estadounidenses cada año pues que así sea. En Australia donde la libertad de expresión no está protegida explícitamente en la Constitución, es más probable que los tribunales respeten el derecho de los gobiernos elegidos democráticamente a alcanzar ese equilibrio.

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