Despite the health hazards, cigarette smoking is disproportionately frequent among young women. A significant contribution of genetic factors to smoking phenotypes is well established. Efforts to identify susceptibility genes do not generally take into account possible interaction with environment, life experience and psychological characteristics. We recruited 501 female Israeli students aged 20-30 years, obtained comprehensive background data and details of cigarette smoking and administered a battery of psychological instruments. Smoking initiators (n=242) were divided into subgroups with high (n=127) and low (n=115) levels of nicotine dependence based on their scores on the Fagerstrom Tolerance Questionnaire and genotyped with noninitiators (n=142) for single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 11 nicotinic cholinergic receptor genes. We found nominally significant (P<0.05) allelic and genotypic association with smoking initiation of SNP rs2072660 and multilocus haplotypes (P<0.007-0.05) in CHRNB2 and nominal (P<0.05) allelic or genotypic association of SNPs in CHRNA7 (rs1909884), CHRNA9 (rs4861065) and CHRNB3 (rs9298629) with nicotine dependence. Employing logistic regression and controlling for known risk factors, the best-fitting model for smoking initiation encompassed a 5 SNP haplotype in CHRNB2, neuroticism and novelty seeking (P=5.9 x 10(-14), Nagelkerke r(2)=0.30). For severity of nicotine dependence, two SNPs in CHRNA7 (rs1909884 and rs883473), one SNP in CHRNA5 (rs680244) and the interaction of a SNP in CHRNA7 (rs2337980) with neuroticism, were included in the model (P=2.24 x 10(-7), Nagelkerke r(2)=0.40). These findings indicate that background factors, psychological characteristics and genetic variation in nicotinic cholinergic receptors contribute independently or interactively to smoking initiation and to severity of nicotine dependence in young women.