When Australia became the first country to pass legislation on plain tobacco packaging in 2011, it was heralded as a major step forward in public health. The backlash from the tobacco industry was swift and a number of lawsuits were lodged claiming Australia had violated the norms of international trade. But the country held firm on the legality of its decision, thanks in part to the work of Professors Andrew Mitchell and Tania Voon from the Melbourne Law School.
Mitchell and Voon’s research has demonstrated that international economic law includes exceptions for countries to protect public health through tobacco control. This caveat has been fundamental in helping developing countries introduce plain packaging laws and present a stronger case against litigation by tobacco companies.
Their pioneering work has won them a number of grants, including two major research grants to collaborate with Cancer Council Victoria from 2012 - 2015 on the relationship between international economic law and common risk factors, like tobacco and alcohol, for non-communicable diseases. Their research has also led to a large number of invitations from all over the world to speak or comment on the topic.
In 2014 Mitchell was awarded an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship for his work in international trade and investment law, becoming one of three people in his field to be awarded that year.
The work done by Mitchell and Voon in the sphere of public health and international economic law has had a significant impact in almost every corner of the world. In recognition of their achievement they have received the inaugural Excellence in Engagement – Research Award.