The approval (2003) and enforcement (2005) of a smoking ban in Italy have been viewed by many as an unexpectedly successful example of policy change. The present paper, by applying a processualist approach, concentrates on two policy cycles between 2000 and 2005. These had opposing outcomes: an incomplete decisional stage and an authoritative decision, enforced two years later. Through the analysis of the different phases of agenda setting, alternative specification and decision making, we have compared the quality of participation of policy entrepreneurs in the two cycles, their political strategies and, in these, the relevance of issue image. The case allows us to direct the attention of scholars and practitioners to an early phase of the policy implementation process – which we have named ‘transition to practice’. This, managed with political strategy, might have strongly contributed to the final successful policy outcome.