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Comprehensive smoke-free legislation in England: how advocacy won the day


Objective: To examine how a government committed to a voluntary approach was forced by an effective advocacy coalition to introduce comprehensive smoke-free legislation.

Methods: A diary was kept from the start of the campaign in 2003, backed up by journal and press articles, and information downloaded from the web. Regular public opinion polls were also carried out to supplement government surveys and polls conducted by the media.

Results: The 1997 Labour Government was committed to a voluntary approach to deal with the problem of secondhand smoke. By 2003, efforts to persuade government to introduce regulation of workplace secondhand smoke through a health and safety code of practice with exemptions for the hospitality trade, had failed. Despite a lack of support from the government, including the health minister, a new strategy by health advocates focusing on comprehensive workplace legislation was able to succeed.

Conclusions: In a democracy it is crucial to develop public knowledge and belief in the extent of the risks of secondhand smoke. Gaining public and media support for the issue can ensure that government has to take action and that the legislation will be enforceable. The interests of the tobacco industry and the hospitality trade differ and this can be used to gain hospitality trade support for comprehensive national legislation in order to ensure a level playing field and protection from litigation.

  • advocacy
  • smoke-free legislation
  • secondhand smoke

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