The label 'teachable moment' (TM) has been used to describe naturally occurring health events thought to motivate individuals to spontaneously adopt risk-reducing health behaviors. This manuscript summarizes the evidence of TMs for smoking cessation, and makes recommendations for conceptual and methodological refinements to improve the next generation of related research. TM studies were identified for the following event categories: office visits, notification of abnormal test results, pregnancy, hospitalization and disease diagnosis. Cessation rates associated with pregnancy, hospitalization and disease diagnosis were high (10-60 and 15-78%, respectively), whereas rates for clinic visits and abnormal test results were consistently lower (2-10 and 7-21%, respectively). Drawing from accepted conceptual models, a TM heuristic is outlined that suggests three domains underlie whether a cueing event is significant enough to be a TM for smoking cessation: the extent to which the event (1) increases perceptions of personal risk and outcome expectancies, (2) prompts strong affective or emotional responses, and (3) redefines self-concept or social role. Research in TMs could be improved by giving greater attention to assessment of conceptually grounded cognitive and emotional variables, appropriately timed assessment and intervention, and inclusion of appropriate target and comparison samples.