While Spain's national tobacco control legislation prohibits smoking in many indoor public places, the law provides for an exception to the prohibition of smoking by allowing separate seating sections and ventilation options in certain public places such as bars and restaurants, hotels and airports. Accordingly, Spain's law is not aligned with Article 8 Guidelines of the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which requires parties to ensure universal protection against secondhand smoke exposure in all enclosed public places, workplaces and on all means of public transport. Spain's law is currently being promoted by the tobacco companies in other countries as a model for smoke-free legislation. In order to prevent weakening of smoke-free laws in other countries through industry-supported exceptions, we investigated the tactics used by the tobacco companies before the implementation of the new law and assessed the consequences of these actions in the hospitality sector. Internal tobacco industry documents made public through US litigation settlements dating back to the 1980s were searched in 2008-9. Documents show that tobacco companies sought to protect hospitality venues from smoking restrictions by promoting separate seating for smokers and ineffective ventilation technologies, supporting an unenforceable voluntary agreement between the Madrid local government and the hospitality industry, influencing ventilation standards setting and manipulating Spanish media. The Spanish National Assembly should adopt comprehensive smoke-free legislation that does not accommodate the interests of the tobacco industry. In doing so, Spain's smoke-free public places law would be better aligned with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.