Plain packaging for tobacco products will keep lawyers busy for years and achieve nothing else, NZ First says.
The party is out of step with nearly all the others in Parliament who are backing the Government's aim to have the law in place by the end of next year.
"All plain packaging will achieve is the creation of the inevitable lawsuits which will cost taxpayers millions of dollars," NZ First leader Winston Peters said.
"By following the Government's defective logic, why don't they introduce plain packaging on alcohol to tackle the massive social and criminal harm it inflicts on society?"
Health groups are lauding the Government's cautious move but an expert is warning Government trade deals may mean it never happens.
Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia, the Maori Party co-leader, announced on Tuesday that the Government will introduce new legislation before the end of the year to remove branded packs from shelves – depending on whether world-leader Australia can make it work first.
The Government has been advised defending a legal challenge could cost $3-6 million, while one anti-smoking group says plain packaging will save $2 billion in health costs and 5000 lives.
The Smokefree Coalition says it is among the most important steps the government can take towards reaching its target of a smokefree New Zealand by 2025.
"[It] will remove the tobacco industry's last methods of making smoking appear glamorous and sophisticated to our children," said director Prudence Stone.
But a free trade expert says the decision to wait until Australia has first battled the tobacco companies is National "kicking for touch".
Auckland University's Professor Jane Kelsey predicts plain packaging laws will be pushed out well into the next parliamentary term, and by that time National will not need the Maori Party's support to remain in power.
Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague made a similar argument, saying a positive health initiative "was being undone by the Government's free trade obsession".
Their concerns are borne out by Philip Morris New Zealand corporate affairs manager Christopher Bishop, who warned in a statement there was "strong evidence" plain packaging breached international trade rules and exposed New Zealand to WTO action.