INTRODUCTION: Coalitions of supporters of comprehensive tobacco control policy have been crucial in achieving policy success nationally and internationally, but the dynamics of such alliances are not well understood.
METHODS: Qualitative semi-structured, narrative interviews with 35 stakeholders involved in developing the European Council Recommendation on smoke-free environments. These were thematically analyzed to examine the dynamics of coalition-building, collaboration and leadership in the alliance of organizations which successfully called for the development of comprehensive European Union (EU) smoke-free policy.
RESULTS: An alliance of tobacco control and public health advocacy organizations, scientific institutions, professional bodies, pharmaceutical companies, and other actors shared the goal of fighting the harms caused by second-hand smoke. Alliance members jointly called for comprehensive EU smoke-free policy and the protection of the political debates from tobacco industry interference. The alliance's success was enabled by a core group of national and European actors with long-standing experience in tobacco control, who facilitated consensus-building, mobilized allies and synchronized the actions of policy supporters. Representatives of Brussels-based organizations emerged as crucial strategic leaders.
CONCLUSIONS: The insights gained and identification of key enablers of successful tobacco control advocacy highlight the strategic importance of investing into tobacco control at European level. Those interested in effective health policy can apply lessons learned from EU smoke-free policy to build effective alliances in tobacco control and other areas of public health.