Conceptualizing punctuated and non-punctuated policy change: tobacco control in comparative perspective

Donley T. Studlar, Paul Cairney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


How should we conceptualize major institutional and policy changes that take place in the absence of crises, shocks or big bangs? This article uses the case study of tobacco policy (in 23 democracies) to highlight the concept of phased transition towards paradigm change. It recognizes the importance of fundamental policy change while going beyond the binary distinction between the world at one point in time replaced by a fundamentally new political world in the next. It uses multiple measures of policy change over time to identify the magnitude and speed of change and considers how the current literature conceptualizes such outcomes.

Points for practitioners Major policy change need not be associated solely with crisis or a major event. Rather, it can follow a series of steps or phases during which a series of key factors change and those changes reinforce each other to produce momentum. The case of tobacco control highlights the potential for relatively coherent policy change over three decades.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)513-531
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Review of Administrative Sciences
Issue number3
Early online date3 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2014


  • cumulative change
  • evolution
  • new institutionalism
  • public health
  • punctuated equilibrium

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