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Open Access Research article

Evidence and argument in policymaking: development of workplace smoking legislation

Dorie E Apollonio1 and Lisa A Bero12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Clinical Pharmacy, University of California, San Francisco, 3333 California Street, Suite 420, San Francisco, CA 94143-0613, USA

2 Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco, 3333 California Street, Suite 420, San Francisco, CA 94143-0613, USA

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BMC Public Health 2009, 9:189  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-189

Published: 17 June 2009

Abstract

Background

We sought to identify factors that affect the passage of public health legislation by examining the use of arguments, particularly arguments presenting research evidence, in legislative debates regarding workplace smoking restrictions.

Methods

We conducted a case-study based content analysis of legislative materials used in the development of six state workplace smoking laws, including written and spoken testimony and the text of proposed and passed bills and amendments. We coded testimony given before legislators for arguments used, and identified the institutional affiliations of presenters and their position on the legislation. We compared patterns in the arguments made in testimony to the relative strength of each state's final legislation.

Results

Greater discussion of scientific evidence within testimony given was associated with the passage of workplace smoking legislation that provided greater protection for public health, regardless of whether supporters outnumbered opponents or vice versa.

Conclusion

Our findings suggest that an emphasis on scientific discourse, relative to other arguments made in legislative testimony, might help produce political outcomes that favor public health.