The New Zealand Smoke-Free Environments Act was passed in August 1990 and is a central component of a comprehensive tobacco control policy. The passage of the Act was preceded by a long campaign. The essential components of this campaign were: international scientific evidence and the estimates of tobacco-caused mortality in New Zealand; activists groups supported by established health charities and the health professions; a sympathetic Health Department bureaucracy; a committed and powerful Minister of Health; and a relatively weak industry. The legislation passed despite adverse timing, the absence of bipartisan political support, and the pressure of industry-supported sports lobby groups. The campaign provides a model for other health issues in New Zealand and lessons for the tobacco wars elsewhere.