Statutes, regulations, and litigation are pivotal tools for creating
conditions for people to lead healthier and safer lives. Law can educate,
create incentives, and deter; mandate safer product design and use of property;
and alter the informational, physical, or economic environment.
This article defines public health law as the power and duty of the
state to ensure conditions for people to be healthy and limitations on the
state's power to constrain autonomy, privacy, liberty, and proprietary interests
of individuals and businesses. The 5 essential characteristics of public health
law discussed are (1) the government's responsibility to defend against health
risks and promote the public's health; (2) the population-based perspective
of public health, emphasizing prevention; (3) the relationship between government
and the populace; (4) the mission, core functions, and services of the public
health system; and (5) the power to coerce individuals, professionals, and
businesses for the community's protection.