A citizen right to choose is upheld in a recent supreme court ruling in Panama

By Surse Pierpoint Fundación Libertad 

In 2022 the Panamanian legislature passed a law (#315) that prohibited the import, commercialization and use of e cigarettes, vaporizers, etc.

The Fundación Libertad and other organizations dedicated to promoting the rights of individuals to freely choose what products they would like to consume objected strenuously to said prohibition from the moment the law was passed.

Thanks to help from the Tholos Foundation, we instituted a public campaign to educate the population regarding a citizens Freedom to Choose (“Libertad de Elegir”).

This campaign was carried out last year from May through August 2022 and consisted in a mix of six opinion pieces for Panama´s most widely read newspaper (La Prensa), policy papers and one on one meetings with the press, NGOs and legislators. A policy paper was prepared and presented to correspondents from both Panama City (May 31st)  as well as the city of David (July 13th)  in the western most province of Panama. Additionally we collaborated with Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic to put on regional webinars. In August, we were able to get a member of the Panamanian legislature together with 3 representatives of NGOs aligned with the vision of repealing law 315.

As a result of this campaign and Tholos’ support we were able to mobilize public opinion regarding this law and why we thought this law was unconstitutional.

On May 14 the Panama Supreme Court declared this law unconstitutional on behalf of the Association for the Reduction of Tobacco Harm (ARDTP ) who filed the suit on the grounds of this law being a violation of a citizen’s right to choose alternative products that are conducive to cessation and therefore less harmful for consumers.

The multi-page opinion is summed up in the following paragraph:

“Competition is achieved when consumers in a free market are gathered on one side and the producers of products on the other to freely choose products without intervention from exogenous forces outside of the market and whose choices are based on sufficient information regarding the characteristics of said product. Therefore, any restrictions on the commercialization of a product (in this case electric dispenser with or without nicotine) that is analogous to a similar product (traditional cigarettes) would establish a distinct advantage to a defined group of merchants, thereby violating equal rights and free competition.”

The ruling clearly upholds the rights of citizens to freely choose what products to purchase in a free market without the oppressive hand of the nanny state regulating this decision.

We thank Tholos Foundation for its support of free markets and celebrate this decision that upholds a citizen’s freedom to choose in Panama.