Background: Tobacco companies consistently work to prevent and undermine smoke-free laws. The tobacco industry and its allies have funded hospitality associations and other third parties to oppose smoke-free laws, argue that smoke-free laws will economically damage hospitality venues, promote ventilation and voluntary smoker 'accommodation' as an alternative to smoke-free laws, and to challenge smoke-free laws in court. In 2008, the Netherlands extended its smoke-free law to hospitality venues.
Methods: We triangulated news articles, government documents, scientific papers, statistical reports and interviews to construct this case study.
Results: Despite widespread public support for smoke-free hospitality venues, opponents successfully represented these laws as unpopular and damaging to small bars. These challenges and related smokers' rights activities resulted in non-compliance among all bars and reinstating an exemption for small, owner-run venues. This policy reversal was the result of a weak implementing media campaign (which failed to present the law as protecting nonsmokers), smoking room exemptions and reactive (vs. proactive) measures by the Ministry of Health and civil society.
Conclusion: The policy failure in the Netherlands is the result of poor implementation efforts and the failure to anticipate and deal with opposition to the law. When implementing smoke-free laws it is important to anticipate opposition, used the media to target non-smokers to reinforce public support, and actively enforce the law.