Public policy is the approach, whether active or passive, taken by government departments, groups, and branches in response to a particular issue. Public health is a field of study that focuses on protecting the health of communities and populations. Therefore, public health policy is the collected laws, regulations, and approaches taken to making decision and implementing policy that affects the health of the wider community.
Public health policy issues include a wide range of topics including health care reform, insurance reform with an eye to individuals who are not covered by an employer or a group, and the prevention and control of communicable diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, Influenza A virus subtype H1N1 also known as swine flu, Avian Influenza, tuberculosis or TB, and other diseases. Other public health policy issues include nutrition and food safety; stem cell research; regulation of alcohol, medical marijuana, and tobacco; oversight of the pharmaceutical industry; and genetics.
That public health policy is conveyed through a variety of means and can be affected by a variety of factors can be seen by examining a particular issue; for example, smoking. One of the factors that has shaped public health policy with regard to tobacco is a concern with the health of the tobacco industry and the continuation of taxes collected from the sale of tobacco products. Although it took until June, 2009 for the government regulation of tobacco products to be place under the aegis of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States—rather than the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which had maintained oversight up till then—evidence from research in both the UK and the US had been pointing to health issues related to tobacco from the early 1960s when the cigarette smoking was first linked to lung cancer and other diseases.
Public health policy reached out to affect the labeling of cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and related products as well as the advertising of tobacco. Smoking-prevention instruction was developed for students. That smoking was addictive and that the addictive and deadly nature of smoking were known to the tobacco industry did something to change to attitudes toward them and resulted in litigation by individuals and by governments as well. Increased prices and taxes added to tobacco products, and more oversight of manufacturing standards.
The discovery that second-hand smoke can cause respiratory illnesses including asthma and even be lethal to non-smokers, led to greater and greater restrictions on the behaviors of smokers. At one time there had been smoking and non-smoking sections, but these gave way to smoke free areas, buildings, airports, restaurants, schools, hospitals, etc. In some places, smokers must move away from the shelter of buildings to ensure that smoke does not get into air intakes or affect those seeking to enter and exit.
The introduction by the World Health Organization of a tobacco-control treaty in 2003 to provide an international framework for the regulation of tobacco signals a move towards global public health policy. The document is the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). It had been adopted by 165 countries as of May 2009.