Exciting New Laws Reshaping Healthcare in the U.S.

From larger birth control supplies to limited cigarette purchases, 2015 has been a big win for America's public health system so far

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In the first decade-and-a-half of the 21st Century, we've already seen stricter laws and higher taxes to make harmful habits like smoking cigarettes and drinking soda less appealing. And the fight to better public health continues: Within the past month, cities and states around the country have proposed or passed a slew of bills aimed at improving residents' health. Some of the new laws you may notice going into effect? Check 'em out!

The law: Labeling high-sodium foods in chain restaurants

Lawmakers in New York City are shaking their finger at chain restaurant menu items that go too heavy on the salt. A newly proposed law would require chain restaurants to add a saltshaker symbol on menus next to meals that contain more than the recommended 2,300 mg daily limit. (Eek!) It's estimated that the symbol would be necessary for about 10 percent of menu items. (Find out the real salty risk in Latest Studies Debate Low-Sodium Recommendation.)

The law: Requiring warning labels on sugary beverages

Last week, San Francisco became the first city in the country to pass a law requiring all ads for sugary drinks to carry a warning label. The message states, "WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay." The new law was part of a package designed to reduce residents' consumption of sweetened drinks and also included banning ads for them on publicly owned property, such as bus stops.

The law: Banning eight carcinogenic flavorings in food

Although it's not a law quite yet, a group of prominent health organizations-including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Science in the Public Interest-recently petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban eight synthetic flavors that have been shown to cause cancer in lab animals, and, possibly, in humans. The law would prohibit the use of these common food additives, like benzophenone and myrcene, often found in ice cream, baked goods, candy, and beverages. (Also check out these 14 Banned Foods Still Allowed in the U.S.)

The law: Raising the age for purchasing tobacco

In an effort to curtail tobacco use, the California Senate is considering a law that would raise the legal age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21. Some areas in the state have already increased the age including Healdsburg, CA which became the first city in California to do so last year, and Santa Clara, CA which passed an ordinance to raise the legal age just last week. If passed, the law would go into effect in 2016. (Good news, considering Secondhand Smoke Might Be Making You Gain Weight.)

The law: Purchasing a year's worth of birth control at a time

Women in Oregon will soon be able to avoid the hassle of monthly trips to the drugstore to pick up their birth control prescription. Thanks to a brand new law, they'll be able to obtain a year's worth of birth control instead of the typical 30 to 90 day supply. Increasing access to birth control could cut down on unintended pregnancies, supporters of the bill say. When the law goes into effect on January 1, 2016, women will first get a three-month supply to make sure they don't have any reactions to the prescription and can then receive 12 months worth at a time.

The law: Prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes in public areas

Oregon for the win again: A new law bans the use of e-cigs in public spaces and workplaces as well as banning sales to minors. The risks of e-cigarettes aren't entirely known, but some studies suggest they may cause birth defects and cancer. Some e-cigarettes also contain nicotine, which may result in similar health risks as cigarettes. (Find out more in Are e-Cigarettes Really a Healthy Alternative to Lighting Up?)

The law: Encouraging women with dense breast tissue to consider tests beyond mammograms

A law that went into effect earlier this month in Michigan requires women with dense breast tissue who receive a mammogram to be notified in writing and encouraged to pursue additional tests. Dense breast tissue can obscure early signs of cancer that may be better detected with additional testing, such as ultrasound or MRI. More than 20 states have similar laws that notify women with dense breast tissue about the limitations of mammograms.

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