An International Meeting of Public Health and Law Enforcement

By Scott Burris

We know, and now most people acknowledge, that police activity has some clear, and in some instances intentional, effects on health.  To start with the obvious, police are instrumental in reducing the number of people who are murdered, assaulted, raped, or otherwise terrorized. Policing – like any form of social intervention – can also have unintended consequences. There is, for example, considerable evidence that criminal law and legal practices can increase risks of HIV and other harms among drug users.

These facts are well-established and pretty well recognized. So now the question is not whether policing has health consequences, but rather whether social and health work is to be seen as an integral element of law enforcement in the 21st century.  In much of their day to day work, police are engaged in far more than the prevention of crime or the maintenance of social order.  This is something we all know, something that has probably always been true of police work, something that is shaping a lot of programs around the world, and yet something we need to talk more openly about.

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Dispatches from APHA 2012

By Scott Burris

Two thoughts for the Friday following the 2012 APHA Annual Meeting:

(1) This is a public service message for public health lawyers and their extra-disciplinary significant others.

The American Public Health Association now has a Health Law Section. This is a big step up, in organizational terms. Until this year, health lawyers and those interested in public health law were just a special primary interest group (really, that’s what they called them at APHA – a SPIG.)  As a section, we have more opportunities to recruit members and fill presentation slots, and a greater voice in association governance.

That’s not the best part. The best part is that the officers behind the section and its elevation are all dynamic and mostly young. They’ve got energy and vision, which is going to make this section an exciting one to belong to.  They are making the case within the association and beyond for the importance of law to health, and they are taking a multi-disciplinary view. The section is bringing together legal practitioners in public health, normative legal scholars, and empirical public health law researchers.

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Occupy Public Health? A Social Determinants Tea Party?

By Scott Burris

Kathy Ward is a veteran public health worker in Nebraska. She has a neat idea, which I summarize here in mostly her words:

Public health policy needs more proponents who are knowledgeable and able to express their positions freely. The shortage of advocates presents a danger for public health in a time of anti-government attitudes, uninformed public health policies, deficit reduction efforts, and looming budget cuts to the public health programs that protect our country.
A 2008 study by the Association of Schools of Public Health indicated that 23% of the current public health work force–almost 110,000 workers–will be eligible to retire by 2012. This generation of baby boomer public health workers has a high level of expertise in public health; passion for improving the public’s health; and strong partnerships with nonprofit, government, and private health organizations. They have the credibility to be effective spokespersons for public health and to influence its partners.
Why not use these assets to build a movement of public health advocates?

• Enlist national public health organizations such as ASTHO, the Chronic Disease Directors Association, and the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs in finding and enlisting public health advocates.
• Find advocates through similar organizations at state and local levels, such as state public health associations and nonprofits such as the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.
• Build linkages with other national associations such as AARP. Consider public health in the broader sense, including in this effort retired Medicaid professionals who can knowledgeably describe the losses that will occur to the public from cutting Medicaid programs.
• Provide training in advocacy through webinars conducted with public interest lobbyists and health associations that employ advocacy staff

Sounds like a sensible idea to me. Mobilizing a lot of effective volunteers at a low cost. What do you think?

How About a Clean-Air Shave?

By Scott Burris

Somewhere along the way, environmental law and public health law got separated.  Despite the importance of clean air and water to public health – not to mention parks, recreation, salubrious zoning – the two fields developed independently in the law. That’s changing in a lot of ways, and one very good example is a study proceeding now in New York City.

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Preventing Teen Crashes with Stickers

By Scott Burris

Graduated Drivers’ License Laws have apparently been a major success in reducing crashes among novice drivers. (A couple of studies have suggested the laws might just be postponing crashes, but so far that hypothesis remains unproved, and the weight of expert opinion seems to be that the association is spurious.)  There has been a weak link in enforcement, though, which is that in the dark of night and flow of traffic, police officers can’t always spot an underage driver out past the curfew or chauffeuring too many passengers.

Enter the decal.  A number of European and Asian countries require new drivers to decorate their car with a special decal indicating probationary status. That way it is easy for police to detect possible GDL violations.

In 2010, New Jersey became the first state to require the decal, and this week a PHLR study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found robust evidence of seriously positive impact.

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Using the Taxing Power for Public Health

By Scott Burris

In a Perspective in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine, Michelle Mello and Glenn Cohen, both professors at Harvard, write about the prospects for using the constitutional Taxing Power to adopt innovative laws to advance public health objectives.  Cueing off the Supreme Court’s decision in the Affordable Care Act litigation, Mello — who is also a member of PHLR’s Methods Core — and Cohen write that the Court appears to have opened the door for “more targeted, assertive interventions to promote public health” under the Taxing Power than Congress has previously pursued. “For example, instead of merely taxing tobacco sales, the federal government could require individuals to pay a tax penalty unless they declare that they haven’t used tobacco products during the year. It could give a tax credit to people who submit documentation that their bodymass index is in the normal range or has decreased during the year or to diabetic persons who document that their glycated hemoglobin levels are controlled. It could tax individuals who fail to purchase gym memberships. …These strategies depart from traditional uses of taxes by targeting omissions and noncommercial activities that are important drivers of chronic disease.”  Read the full article online at the New England Journal of Medicine online.

Introducing Our Collaborators

Bill of Health is lucky to have lined up a few really great institutional collaborators.  Let’s meet them:

First, HealthLawProf Blog will be cross-posting its material on our site, helping Bill of Health achieve its goal of becoming a true one-stop-shop for news and commentary in health law, biotech, and bioethics.

Second, the folks at the Public Health Law Research Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (headed up by Temple’s Scott Burris) will be providing regular updates on their great work in empirical public health law.  You can also follow them on:

And last but not least, Yale’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, which puts together a stellar weekly round-up of recently published bioethics scholarship, op-eds, news items, etc. will be allowing us to post a version of that round-up here.  Check for it on Friday afternoons.

If you’re interested in pursuing an institutional collaboration, please let us know.  Contact Holly Fernandez Lynch, hlynch at law dot harvard dot edu.