The life-skills approach to smoking prevention was tested in this study. In total, 1024 pupils (mean age 11.4 years, SD = 0.90) from Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg and Germany were recruited as an experimental group, and a sample of 834 matched pupils served as a control group. While the pupils from the control group received no specific intervention, the pupils in the experimental group participated in an intervention programme which was based on the life-skills approach and consisted of 21 sessions. The aims of the programme were to promote fundamental social competencies and coping skills. In addition, specific information on cigarette smoking was given and skills for resisting social influences to smoke were rehearsed. The programme was conducted by trained school teachers during a course of 4 months. Anonymous questionnaires were administrated (1) before the programme was implemented and (2) 15 months after the programme had started. Teachers as well as pupils showed a high level of satisfaction with the programme idea and the materials. With regard to the outcome variables, the programme had no differential effect on current smoking (4-week prevalence). The programme showed a weak effect (P < 0.1) on lifetime smoking prevalence and experimental smoking. There was also an effect of the programme on smoking knowledge, on the social competences of the pupils as well as on the classroom climate. No effects were found on susceptibility to smoking among never-smokers, attitudes towards smoking and the perceived positive consequences of smoking. The results indicate that prevention programmes that are run for only a few months can have a positive impact on variables considered to be protective with regard to smoking uptake.