13th April 2018, Volume 131 Number 1473

Eric Crosbie, George Thomson

The constantly evolving nature of trade governance in the 21st century is increasingly having a profound impact on public health and the development of public health policies globally.1 New rules…

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Political delays slow the diffusion of best practices. In this case the delays due to tobacco industry legal threats delayed standardised packaging, slowing smoking cessation and the reduction of initiation. They also delayed the reduction of government health expenditures and tobacco industry profits. Other countries introducing or implementing similar policies should learn from these experiences and take steps to proactively avoid unnecessary political delays that have a profound impact on public health.



To describe the process of enacting tobacco standardised packaging (SP) amidst tobacco industry legal threats in New Zealand.


Relevant government and NGO documents, and media items were reviewed. Policymakers and health advocates in New Zealand were interviewed. The data were triangulated and thematically analysed.


In 2011, the New Zealand Government announced the goal of becoming a smokefree country (reducing smoking prevalence to 5%) by the year 2025, and considered adopting SP. In April 2012, the Government announced it would introduce SP, but tobacco companies threatened the Government with litigation in international courts for violating investment and intellectual property rights. In response, the Government adopted a ‘wait and see’ approach, waiting until two legal challenges against Australia’s SP law were resolved before it enacted its legislation in September 2016. Health advocates, limited due to funding constraints, attempted to alter the Government’s approach to the legal threats without success. Interviews with policymakers and health advocates confirmed these threats helped produce a regulatory chill, delaying the policymaking process by three years.


The New Zealand case illustrates how the threat of a potential international lawsuit can create a chilling effect by helping delay the implementation of public health policies.

Author Information

Eric Crosbie, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco, CA; George Thomson, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington.


Eric Crosbie, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, Room 366 Library, 530 Parnassus, San Francisco, CA.

Correspondence Email


Competing Interests

Eric Crosbie reports grants from National Cancer Institute Training Grant 2T32 CA113710-11 and Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program Dissertation Research Award 24DT-0003 during the conduct of the study.


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