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The Team
Background information
Annual reports/meetings

The need for a EUPHA Public health and law section

The initiative of the EUPHA Public health and law section was accepted during the annual meeting of the Governing Board in October 2020.

There is a rising awareness that public health issues are inseparable from issues of human rights and social justice. Within the European public health community, we have seen a growing interest in the legal and regulatory aspects of public health policy, practice and research. Over the years, the European Public Health Conferences (Stockholm 2017, Ljubljana 2018 and Marseille 2019) have seen an increase in workshops and presentations touching upon the legal issues surrounding public health. Since the announcement of our initiative (mid 2019), we already have over 200 public health professionals interested in this network and we have contacted the network of (public) health lawyers and teachers as well as collaborated with the Global Law Enforcement and Public Health Association (GLEPHA).


Law and policy are among the most effective tools to improve health. Many of the greatest public health successes in the world are the result of legal interventions, such as vaccinations, safer workplaces, tobacco control, mandatory seatbelt laws, fat/sugar taxes.

Law and ethics in public health are evolving quickly to address the increasing burden of diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, but also injuries and deaths. Moreover, inequalities, structural racism, genetic testing and an ageing population all touch on legal and human rights issues. Especially in a time of Covid-19, law is playing an important role to direct public health and policymaking to overcome the pandemic without losing out on other diseases, without increasing inequalities.

Public health law often needs to find a balance between public goods and private interests, to find a balance between the collective benefits of population health and personal and economic interests. But even if the balance is sometimes hard to find, public health measures are designed to protect civil rights and liberties for the community, the individual and – in particular- for the persons at risk.

The role of law in public health includes the following:

  • Taxation: to provide incentives for healthy behaviours and disincentives for risk behaviours (e.g. sugar tax);
  • Finances: to support public health infrastructure and healthy living conditions;
  • Information: to educate the public by labelling food, tobacco and regulating advertising;
  • Environment and urban planning: to help making healthy choices the easy choices (e.g. taxes to reduce carbon emissions, cycling paths, greening zones);
  • Socioeconomic support: to allocate resources to reduce the inequalities (e.g. access to housing, income)
  • Direct regulation: to regulate healthy measures (e.g. travel restrictions, mandatory vaccinations)
  • Civil litigation: to redress public health harms (e.g. relating to the environment);
  • Deregulation: to reform laws which pose an obstacle to public health; and
  • Human rights: to scrutinize government action in protecting and promoting health (e.g. limiting liberty to control infectious diseases).

Close collaboration with other EUPHA sections

This section is intended to be a horizontal section, whereby close collaboration with theme-specific sections (e.g. Public mental health) is essential. There is an overlap with the EUPHA Ethics in public health section and the EUPHA Public health policy and politics section and we propose close collaboration with these sections. As both these sections do not specifically focus on the role of law in public health, a separate section on this topic is a must.


  • David Patterson, University of Groningen, Netherlands
  • Dineke Zeegers Paget, EUPHA office
  • Elena Petelos, University of Crete, Greece
  • Farhang Tahzib, Faculty of Public Health, UK


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