Local Governments and the Food System:
Innovative Approaches to
Public Health Law and Policy+
Lainie Rutkow,* Jennifer L. Pomeranz** & Sarah O. Rodman***
Law can serve as a powerful tool to protect and promote the health of
populations.1 In the United States, federal, state, and local actors frequently
legislate, regulate, and litigate to further public health goals. Government
may accomplish these objectives through a variety of means, such as raising
the price of a harmful product, requiring an industry to change its practices
to produce a safer product, and compelling disclosure of relevant
information. For example, federal, state, and local governments impose
cigarette taxes, which have been associated with decreased smoking,
especially among young people.2 Litigation against motor vehicle
+ This research was supported by the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins
Bloomberg School of Public Health. The authors would like to acknowledge helpful comments
from Roni Neff and Anne Palmer. JLP is supported by the Rudd Foundation.
* Assistant Professor and Assistant Director, Center for Law and the Public’s Health, Johns
Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; JD, New York University School of Law; PhD,
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; MPH, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School
of Public Health; BA, Yale University.
** Director of Legal Initiatives, Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Yale University; JD,
Cornell School of Law; MPH, Harvard School of Public Health; BA, University of Michigan.
*** Pre-Doctoral Fellow, Center for a Livable Future, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of
Public Health; MPH, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; BA, University of
1. LAWRENCE O. GOSTIN, PUBLIC HEALTH LAW: POWER, DUTY, RESTRAINT 11 (2d ed.
2008) (“Public health has historically constrained the rights of individuals and businesses so
as to protect community interests in health. Whether through the use of reporting requirements
affecting privacy, mandatory testing or screening affecting autonomy, environmental
standards affecting property, industrial regulation affecting economic freedom, or isolation
and quarantine affecting liberty, public health has not shied from controlling individuals and
businesses for the aggregate good.”).
2. Christopher Carpenter & Philip J. Cook, Cigarette Taxes and Youth Smoking: New
Evidence from National, State, and Local Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, 27 J. HEALTH ECON.
287, 297 (2008) (“Across our analyses of three distinct data sets, we find qualitatively similar
estimates: an increase in the state cigarette tax reduces the probability a youth reports past 30
day smoking and frequent smoking.”); Cindy Tworek et al., State-Level Tobacco Control
Policies and Youth Smoking Cessation Measures, 97 HEALTH POL’Y 136, 141–42 (2010)
(“Cigarette price had a positive association with three of the four cessation-related outcome
measures studied among high school regular smokers, suggesting that increasing cigarette
price is a successful tobacco control policy to encourage smoking cessation, particularly
among youth who are often more price-sensitive.”); see also Campaign for Tobacco-Free