Critical Opportunities for Public Health Law

A town hall session.

Criteria for critical opportunities for public health lawmaking are identified in this article along with appropriate examples.

The Issue:
Law has historically had a powerful effect on improving population health, but is underused and under-implemented as a public health tool. The authors provide criteria for identifying and prioritizing critical opportunities for public health law.

Key Findings

  • "Critical opportunities" address problems with high morbidity or mortality, have underlying mechanisms that are well-enough understood to be amenable to legal intervention, and have one or more plausible legal interventions that are not currently being optimally employed.

  • The authors identified examples of critical opportunities: optimizing graduated driver licensing; increasing tax rates on alcoholic beverages, regulating sodium in food; facilitating reversal of opioid overdoses; and improving mental health interventions in colleges.

Using the critical opportunities method will help policy-makers evaluate the costs and effectiveness of legal intervention and provide evidence for its long-term value, which in turn can help them overcome ideological opposition to an expanded role of law in public health, and promote evidence-based lawmaking. The authors recommend a national conversation about opportunities for public health law to advance evidence-based policy-making.

About the Study:
The authors identify examples of critical opportunities for public health lawmaking, and use these examples to illustrate the variety of the public health issues amenable to legal intervention and the legal methods usable to address them.