Background: The aim of the study was to determine whether education or income was more strongly related to smoking in the European Union at large, and within the individual countries of the EU, at the end of the 1990s.
Methods: We related smoking prevalence to education and income level by analyzing cross-sectional data on a total of 48,694 men and 52,618 women aged 16 and over from 11 countries of the European Union in 1998.
Results: Both education and income were related to smoking within the European Union at large. After adjustment of the other socioeconomic indicator, education remained related to smoking in the EU at large, but income only remained so among men. Educational inequalities were larger than income-related inequalities among younger and middle-aged men and women. Educational inequalities were larger than income-related inequalities among men in all individual countries, and among women in Northern Europe. For women from Southern European countries, the magnitude of education- and income-related inequalities was similar.
Conclusions: Education is a strong predictor of smoking in Europe. Interventions should aim to prevent addiction to smoking among the lower educated, by price policies, school-based programs, and smoking cessation support for young adults.