Health advocacy groups are calling for the Government to move ahead on plain packaging of tobacco after a victory by the Australian Government against tobacco company Philip Morris on the issue.

However, no movement to introduce plain packaging is likely in New Zealand until a separate dispute over Australia's plain-packaging legislation at the World Trade Organisation is resolved. That is unlikely to happen until at least the end of next year.

Legislation for plain packaging was introduced to Parliament in 2014 but it has been put on hold until after the WTO dispute is over.

However, Canberra's victory over Philip Morris prompted smokefree groups in New Zealand, including the Nurses' Organisation, to call for New Zealand to push ahead with plain packaging without waiting for the WTO decision.


Public health expert Emeritus Professor Robert Beaglehole said although it was a separate proceeding, the Philip Morris decision should give New Zealand the courage to push ahead with its legislation.

"New Zealand should proceed with great urgency, in part because of this victory of Australia but also because the smoking rates in New Zealand are not declining fast enough.

"It is important New Zealand and other countries contemplating legislation act and not be bullied by complaints by countries which are supported by Big Tobacco."

A spokeswoman for Tobacco Control Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga referred inquiries to the Ministry of Health, which could not be contacted last night.

In yesterday's decision, the Singapore-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that it did not have the jurisdiction to rule on Philip Morris' claim that Australia's 2011 legislation was in breach of a bilateral trade agreement between Australia and Hong Kong the first time the investor-state dispute resolution process has been initiated against Australia.

The decision effectively means the legislation can remain in place.

The ruling in Singapore does not have any impact on the WTO case, which is a challenge against Australia's legislation led by Ukraine, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Indonesia.

The outcome of that is not likely until the end of 2016.

The United Kingdom is also facing legal action from tobacco companies over its plain-packaging legislation, due to take effect next May.