Litigation and Public Health Policymaking: The Case of Tobacco Control
Peter D. Jacobson
University of Michigan School of Public Health
Kenneth E. Warner
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - School of Public Health
Journal of Health Politics, Policy & Law, Vol. 24, P. 769, 1999
Many tobacco control advocates believe that legislators and regulators have failed to enact and implement sufficiently stringent tobacco control laws and thus have supported litigation as a means of achieving public health policy goals. In this article, we examine the relationship between litigation and public health policy formulation in the context of the debate over tobacco control policy. The fundamental questions are how social policy should be made regarding the use of tobacco products, and which institutions should be responsible for controlling tobacco use: the market, the political system (i.e., the legislative and regulatory branches of government), or the courts.
On balance we conclude that litigation is a second-best solution. We see a distinct role for litigation as a complement to a broader, comprehensive approach to tobacco control policymaking, rather than as an alternative to the traditional political apparatus of formulating and implementing public health policy. Our analysis suggests that, in general, public health goals are more directly achievable through the political process than through litigation, though situations such as those concerning tobacco control blur the bounds between litigation and the politics of public health. Litigation has stimulated a national debate over the role of smoking in society and may well move the policy agenda. But we conclude that a sustained legislative and regulatory presence ought to be the bulwark of meaningful policy changes.
Date posted: September 15, 1999