This course is about legal responses to tobacco use, obesity, poor diet, harmful use of alcohol and sedentary lifestyle – the leading causes of preventable disease in the United States, in high-income countries generally, and increasingly, in developing economies. Cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and tobacco-related diseases (known as “non-communicable diseases” or NCDs) are society’s greatest killers, but what can law do – and what should it be doing – to prevent and control them?
Unlike other global health threats, NCDs and their risk factors are partly caused by patterns of consumer choices and transactions lived out every day across the country. The challenge of creating healthier lifestyles cannot be separated from the regulation of those businesses that all too frequently have a vested interest in unhealthy lifestyles.
Although the law’s relationship with the lifestyle-related risk factors for NCDs is complex and contested, governments around the world are experimenting with a wide range of legal strategies to prevent their impact and to create healthier societies. This course places U.S. developments in an international context, and offers frequent comparisons with legal strategies for encouraging healthier lifestyles in Australia and other countries.
During the course, we will confront some important over-arching questions. What are the global determinants of NCDs, and to what extent are global solutions needed? What do global solutions look like? To what extent should law intervene to influence the behavior of populations – as distinct from treating lifestyle-related risk factors as the personal responsibility of each individual? Does a regulatory approach to the prevention of NCDs imply coercion? Does it signal the emergence of the “nanny state”? Does progress necessarily depend on motivating people to consciously improve their habits and lifestyles? Is it possible to regulate business without micro-managing or dictating commercial decisions and “mandating the recipe for tomato ketchup?”
The overall aim of this course is to give students the conceptual skills to think powerfully about law’s role in the prevention of NCDs, to contextualize emerging developments and to participate effectively in debates about appropriate, workable, legal interventions.