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Forthcoming workshop on "Public Health Policies: Efficacy, Lawfulness and Human Rights"

last modified Oct 19, 2015 02:21 PM
Forthcoming workshop on "Public Health Policies: Efficacy, Lawfulness and Human Rights"

An example of plain cigarette packaging, with the brand information in a standard font and a dominant health warning.

Drs Stephanie Palmer and Kathy Liddell (LML), together with collaborators from the University’s Public Health Strategic Research Initiative, have been awarded a grant to host a workshop on “Efficacy of Public Health Policies.”  The workshop will explore tobacco industry claims that standardized packaging laws violate their human rights and the types of evidence that might be used to rebut these arguments. The grant is supported by the Wellcome Trust University of Cambridge Institutional Strategic Support Fund. 

Public initiatives to promote wider health benefits can have a significant economic impact on powerful corporations. Standardised packaging, alcohol pricing, and sugar warnings are key examples. Increased regulation on health grounds has led to a variety of a number of legal challenges at national, European and international levels, and, in turn, considerable scrutiny of the alleged benefits of public health policies. The scrutiny is particularly intense if the policy interferes with the corporations’ human rights. In this case, the policy must be shown to be "necessary and proportionate for the protection of public health” in order to be lawful.  

These tensions raise a set of interesting and complex questions about public health policy evaluation, clustered around–

  1. information-gathering;
  2. evaluation, including prospective evaluation;
  3. different ways of approaching 'trade-offs';
  4. different ways of approaching evidence or more accurately 'good enough evidence’ so that a policy is (sufficiently) in the public interest; and
  5. different responses to uncertainty and risk (empirical and legal).    

To explore these issues, LML and collaborators will host a workshop bringing together researchers from a variety of interdisciplinary fields including public health, law, philosophy of science, and risk studies.

Some of the questions to be discussed include –

  • How do courts and lawyers currently think about the requisite 'proof' or 'evidence' that a policy is 'necessary and proportionate for the protection of public health'? What do they mean by 'necessary'? What do they mean by 'proportionate'? How does the law assess whether a public heath measure is appropriate to achieve its stated aim? Could the same result be achieved through less restrictive means?
  • In what way/s do these frameworks change when the proposed public policy challenges corporations’ profit interests without engaging the corporations’  legally-defined ‘human rights’?  For example, this might involve contrasting policies on alcohol pricing/units with standardized packaging affecting property rights in trade marks).
  • How do public health experts currently think about the evidence necessary to say that a public health policy should be implemented? What different schools of thought exist: risk-based approach; rights-based approach; precautionary principle; Nuffield ladder of intervention? Do their views change depending on the target of the policy (e.g. tobacco risks vs obesity risks)? What other factors are relevant to their views?

Further details will be announced in due course. Please contact if you have a special interest in this topic.