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Article | Regulatory chills: tobacco industry legal threats and the politics of tobacco standardized packaging in New Zealand

This new study suggests that threats of lawsuits by the tobacco industry helped delay the New Zealand legislation for plain tobacco packs by at least three years. The threats were to sue the NZ Government for compensation, with claims that this would amount to billions of dollars.

Read the associated media release

Video of George Thomson discussing the research on the politics of plain packs in New Zealand

Radio New Zealand interview with George Thomson



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.


Crosbie, E., Thomson, G. (2018) Regulatory chills: tobacco industry legal threats and the politics of tobacco standardized packaging in New Zealand. NZMJ 13 April 2018, Vol 131 No 1473

For more information or to request a copy of the paper, please contact:
George Thomson
University of Otago, Wellington




Dr Eric Crosbie
UCSF School of Medicine
University of California San Francisco
Ph. (USA) 1-707-849-8623

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