Hyrofracturing, or “fracking,” is a process for removing natural gas from rock formations deep beneath the earth’s surface. New approaches to fracking are raising significant questions about the risk to human and environmental health. While some see fracking as a solution to our nation’s energy crisis, others see it as a potential threat to public health. In a follow up to our recent webinar, Fracking—Is It Just a Dirty Word?, The Network has created a 5-part product series on the legal issues surrounding fracking. Products include responses to questions asked during the webinar, an overview of the impacts on the environment and communities, and a summary of state and federal laws governing fracking. Read all of the hydrofracturing resources.
From limiting advertising of unhealthy products to disseminating health education materials, laws can impact public health by regulating available information. Requiring information on consumer products is a way that the government can notify the public about potential hazards, health risks and concerns. The public health community is pursuing innovative approaches to educate people with efforts such as the cigarette warning labels or nutrition information on menus. Yet, there are still gaps in the legal efforts to inform consumers. Read more.
The dominant image of lawyers presents them in the courtroom. Public health lawyers want to broaden the conversation about the role of law from inside the courtroom to out in the environment. Lawrence Gostin, author of one of the leading textbooks in public health law, Public Health Law: Power, Duty, Restraint, has identified seven legal tools to improve public health. These tools include taxation and spending, changes to the information environment, changes to the built environment, changes to the socioeconomic environment, direct regulation, indirect regulation through the tort system, and deregulation. These legal tools are the same tools that can assist public health professionals working to affect policy, systems, and environmental change, a model for moving from change at the individual level to change at the population level. Read more on moving public health law from the courtroom to the environment or contact the Network to discuss tools that might be most effective in your community.
Here is just one example of the many legal technical assistance requests answered by the Network:
A state official consulted with the Network in preparation for a public rulemaking hearing to determine the responsibilities of local public health agencies in the official’s state. The purpose of the two-year rulemaking process, which included a review of other states’ health regulations, was to define and establish “required public health services”. A local public health agency expressed concern that the proposed rules did not address maternal and child health services as a stand-alone core service, but rather included maternal-child services under other categories of services. The state official sought guidance from the Network regarding how other states’ regulations address maternal and child health services.
The Network performed an analysis of laws in states that had similar decentralized public health governance structures. The Network was able to identify several states with relevant provisions. In its response to the official, the Network included specific regulatory language from these comparison states relating to provision of maternal and child health services, links to more information on each regulation and a summary of the research process. The requesting official received the Network’s complete response within a week, allowing adequate time for review prior to the hearing.
Despite the well documented benefits of breastfeeding, only 14.1 percent of infants are breastfed exclusively through 6 months of age. As a part of Healthy People 2020, the national goal is to increase this proportion to 25.5 percent by 2020. Research findings suggest that hospital policies and practices can greatly influence a woman’s ability to breastfeed. California has decided to step up and address this problem through landmark legislation, the Hospital Infant Feeding Act. The Act requires hospitals to institute evidence-based policies that support breastfeeding through education, consistency in information and appropriate interventions. The Hospital Infant Feeding Act highlights the important role that individual states can play in promoting breastfeeding. Read more.
During and after emergencies and disasters, psychological casualties can vastly outnumber physical injuries. The identification and treatment of emergent and chronic psychological conditions during and immediately after emergencies may raise unique legal issues. The Johns Hopkins Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Center is currently involved in exploring and analyzing the many unresolved legal and ethical issues, as well as potential solutions, related to the identification, accommodation, response and treatment of mental and behavioral health conditions before, during and after emergencies and disasters. The project team recently created a set of translational tools, which provide succinct information about key topics. To read more on the project and view all of the tools, download the Legal and Ethical Assessment Concerning Mental and Behavioral Health Preparedness Fact Sheet.
October has long been associated with breast cancer and the color pink. Few know that last month was National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and that a white ribbon is the symbol for lung cancer awareness. While some organizations hold lung cancer awareness events, the central theme is usually smoking cessation. The reason is obvious: Most people think the only cause of lung cancer is smoking or exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. The truth is, smoking is not the only cause of lung cancer. While smoking cessation is certainly a worthy cause, better lung cancer prevention, detection and treatment will only be achieved with increased research on all aspects of the disease. Sadly, the public perception that all lung cancers are caused by smoking—and thereby completely preventable—has curtailed advocates’ efforts to raise awareness and needed research funds. Public advocacy can change lung cancer’s stature. Federal legislation has allocated funds for breast cancer research and encouraged states to cover preventative screenings. It’s time we do the same things for lung cancer victims. Read more.
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.