Legal and political obstacles to smoke-free regulation in Minnesota regions.

Research paper by Kerry K Cork, Carolyn C Forman

Indexed on: 26 Nov '08Published on: 26 Nov '08Published in: American Journal of Preventive Medicine


As communities move toward statewide smoke-free regulation, progress is often stymied by legal and political challenges that arise when multiple cities and counties share regulatory power within what is, for economic purposes, a single population center. Political challenges are exacerbated by legal inconsistencies and uncertainties, such as confusing and conflicting lawmaking power in boards of health, cities or counties, and diverse procedures and timelines for adopting and amending ordinances. Surprisingly little research is available about the legal and political obstacles communities face in regulating tobacco on a regional basis. Researchers used case study methodology to analyze legal and political challenges that seven multi-jurisdictional Minnesota regions faced in smoke-free ordinance campaigns between 2000 and 2006, to examine the approaches regulatory authorities took in each of these communities, and to identify strategies to help public health advocates, health organizations, policymakers, and legal professionals anticipate, avoid, and address these obstacles. Legal impediments included confusing rules for passing smoke-free laws via ballot measures (initiatives and referenda); distracting lawsuits; and conflicts over legal jurisdiction. Political challenges included the recurrent argument for regional consistency, protracted timelines, pending legislation and elections, and mayoral vetoes. Legal and political challenges similar to those in this study appear in smoke-free campaigns across the U.S. By recognizing the risks posed by these obstacles, advocates will be better prepared to advance smoke-free policies effectively.