To investigate race differences in retrospectively-reported early smoking experiences, we studied African-American (n=48) and Caucasian (n=155) current smokers who participated in a study designed to identify phenotypic and genotypic factors associated with smoking. Compared with Caucasian smokers, African-American smokers were less educated (mean+/-s.e.m.: 13.3+/-0.25 vs. 14.3 +/- 0.16; p<.01), had higher BMI (28.9+/-1.06 vs. 26.7+/-0.52; p<.05), and smoked significantly fewer cigarettes/day (14.1+/-1.00 vs. 18.4+/-0.74; p<.01). Ninety percent of African-American smokers consumed menthol cigarettes, as opposed to 25% of Caucasian smokers. African-American smokers were significantly older than Caucasian smokers upon initial smoking experimentation (17.4+/-1.1 vs. 14.7+/-0.3; p<.05) and onset of regular smoking (19.7+/-0.9 vs. 17.4+/-0.4; p<.05). African-American smokers were significantly more likely than Caucasian smokers to endorse global pleasurable sensations (48% vs. 30%; p<.05), "pleasurable rush or buzz" (62% vs. 43%; p<.05), and "relaxing" (45% vs. 27%; p<.05) as early experiences with smoking, whereas Caucasian smokers were marginally more likely to report dizziness and difficulty inhaling (61% vs. 45%; p<.10 and 48% vs. 31%; p<.10, respectively). Caucasian smokers were significantly more likely to endorse friends (6.9+/-0.2 vs. 4.8+/-0.4; p<.0001) and "perk me up" (4.2+/-0.3 vs. 3.1+/-0.4; p<.05) and marginally more likely to endorse buzz (4.2+/-0.2 vs. 3.4+/-0.5; p<.10) as reasons for starting to smoke. Further research is needed to determine the relative contributions of genetic, developmental, and socio-cultural factors to these findings.