Public Health Law

Public Health Law

Public Health Law

Course Objectives

Public Health Law

Course Outlines

Public Health Law


Public Health Law

Target Audience

Public Health Law

In this lesson, we’ll examine public laws and policies intended to prevent health problems and promote health across the population. We’ll discuss the defining characteristics and main strategies of public health law.

Public Health Law

What do speed limits, smoking bans, and school vaccination laws all have in common? They each represent laws that have contributed to major public health achievements over the last century. Speed limits on roads and highways have increased motor vehicle safety. Smoking bans in workplaces and other public spaces have protected people from the dangerous effects of second-hand smoke. And laws requiring vaccinations for public school students have dramatically reduced the spread of many infectious diseases.

These are just a few examples of public health law. Public health law refers to any statute, rule, or ordinance that has the purpose of promoting or protecting the public health. Public health laws and policies aim to fulfill society’s interest in assuring conditions for people to be healthy.

The Prevention Orientation

There are several characteristics that distinguish public health law from other areas of health law, such as medical law and healthcare law. Many areas of health law tend to focus on issues related to disease treatment. For example, medical malpractice laws allow patients to pursue civil claims against physicians who cause injury or death when providing treatment.

Public health law, however, has a distinct emphasis on disease and injury prevention. Let’s use smoking bans as an example to illustrate this concept. We’ve already discussed how smoking bans aim to prevent exposure to second-hand smoke. But why? These laws are based on decades of research showing that second-hand smoke is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, emphysema, and other diseases. The primary goal of smoking bans and other public health laws is to prevent avoidable cases of disease and injury.

Smoking bans are an example of public health laws that aim to prevent exposure to second-hand smoke.
No smoking sign

The Population Perspective

Another distinguishing characteristic of public health law is its focus on population health, which aims to improve the health of entire human populations. Public health laws and policies are often intended to promote the common good, which refers to shared benefits for all or most members of a given community.

School vaccination laws help demonstrate this concept. Every U.S. state has laws requiring children to be vaccinated against certain diseases, such as measles, mumps, and rubella, in order to attend public schools. All states allow certain children to be exempted for medical reasons, and most states also allow for religious exemptions. However, vaccinations are required for most children.

These laws aim to promote the common good through a phenomenon known as herd immunity. Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease for individuals who are not immune to an infection. Herd immunity occurs when a large proportion of the population is vaccinated against a disease, which disrupts chains of infection and thereby provides indirect protection for individuals who are not vaccinated.

Course Intro Video


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