Network Report



Public Health and the National Learning Health System

One critical and emerging element of a national infrastructure to transform health care and promote population health is a Learning Health System (LHS). It will allow the nation to take full advantage of the rapidly increasing amounts of health-related data available in digital form. A LHS offers many advantages, such as enhanced disease surveillance and increased data sharing between public health and clinical care. Such a system has been gaining attention in the health care field, but those in public health have largely been absent from the discussion. Jennifer Bernstein, staff attorney at the Network’s Mid-States Region, explores the Learning Health System and why public health needs to be at the table — read more.

Public Health Leaders Urge FDA to Act on Menthol Cigarettes

Last week, the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium hand-delivered a formal Citizen Petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on behalf of 19 national organizations, urging the FDA to prohibit the use of menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes. According to the petition, menthol cigarettes are the source of addiction for nearly half of all teen smokers; menthol increases the palatability of smoking, especially among youth and members of racial and ethnic populations; and menthol also increases the difficulty of quitting. In 2009, when Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act which, among other things, prohibited fruity and candy-like additives as “characterizing flavors” in cigarettes, it made one exception, deferring action on the most popular of all flavors — menthol — and directing the FDA to decide whether continued sale of menthol cigarettes is “appropriate for public health.” The recently filed petition will require the FDA to begin a formal consideration process that could include gathering of public testimony. Read more.

Healthy Procurement Webinar

Government and other agencies often buy large quantities of food to provide or sell to employees and others. This buying process, called procurement, can be used to help encourage healthy eating habits. Learn from experts and researchers about how procurement policies can be used to improve public health in today’s Public Health Law Series webinar, starting at 1 pm ET. Get details and register here.

Frac Sand: Legal Strategies to Address the Uncertain Health Impacts

Hydraulic Fracturing, or fracking, involves blasting enormous amounts of water, sand and chemicals into the earth to extract natural gas. While several major studies will assess the health and environmental impact of fracking, there is less examination of the health impacts associated with the production of the sand used in the fracking process. Jill Krueger, senior staff attorney at the Network’s Northern Region, shares current and potential legal strategies to protect workers and communities exposed to frac sand and its unintended health effects. Read more.

Forced Pooling and the Marcellus Shale

While specific state laws may vary, generally oil and gas companies looking to drill in an area must first apply for a permit with the state, then enter into a lease with respective landowners. If landowners are unwilling to lease, a process called forced pooling, also known as compulsory integration, may be employed. Force pooling may compel an unwilling landowner into a leasing agreement under state law. Our new issue brief outlines forced pooling statutes in states along the Marcellus Shale, and accompanying resources provide tips to landowners and attorneys considering drilling leases in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

No Time to Grieve: Parental Bereavement and the Family Medical Leave Act

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a landmark piece of legislation that protects job security for those facing health issues. The FMLA allows eligible employees to take off up to 12 weeks per year to address a serious health condition, care for a family member or newborn, or recover from illness. The FMLA guarantees continuous coverage of employees’ group health insurance and the stability of returning to the same or equivalent job. But the FMLA has limitations, one of which is providing sufficient bereavement leave for parents grieving the loss of a child. Read more

Ask the Experts:

Utilizing Legal and Policy Tools to Improve Local Public Health

Recently, the Network received a request from a local health official in California who asked for more information on how local health departments can utilize legal and policy tools to achieve public health goals within their communities. After some discussion, the Network referred the health official to several general resources as well as a number of resources specific to his state – view them here.

Contact the Network to get legal assistance.

New Online Resource for State Community Benefits

The Hilltop Institute’s Hospital Community Benefit Program just released a new online resource: the Community Benefit State Law Profiles, and a companion brief, Hospital Community Benefits after the ACA: The State Law Landscape. Both can be accessed here. The Network’s Eastern Region provided research support for the resource, which presents a comprehensive analysis of each state’s community benefit landscape as defined by its laws, regulations, tax exemptions and, in some cases, policies and activities of state executive agencies. For more information, contact Martha Somerville.

Healthy Beverages Toolkit for Health Care Organizations

The overconsumption of sugary drinks is an area of concern for many in the public health community. In Minnesota, public health agencies have partnered to create a series of resources designed to inform and support efforts to promote healthy beverage choices within workplace settings, with a special focus on health care settings. Learn more and access the resources here. Recommended healthier beverages guidelines for health care, government and other institutions can be found here.

For Network Joiners: Access to TEDMED Live

The Network is pleased to offer our Joiners access to TedMed Live, a 3-day simulcast event featuring presentations by leading thinkers and innovators in health and medicine. Running through the end of this week, the event streams live online, and covers some of today’s most critical health topics – from childhood obesity and chronic disease prevention, to innovations in medicine and health data. Joiners can watch previous days’ presentations on-demand, and/or stream Friday’s live simulcast.

Network People

Doug Blanke, J.D., will help provide interim leadership at the Network’s National Coordinating Center unitl a new director is selected and on board. Doug is founder and director of the Public Health Law Center, where he oversees all its programs with a focus on encouraging healthier lives, including work to reduce the harm caused by tobacco use; preventing childhood obesity; supporting healthy eating; and encouraging physical activity. Doug is also executive director of the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium, America’s legal network for effective tobacco control policies. Read more.

Doug recently worked with attorneys of the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium to develop and deliver the Citizen Petition on menthol cigarettes mentioned earlier in this Network Report. Read more about the petition here.


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The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.