The prevalence and correlates of cigarette smoking were examined in 5,116 men and women ages 18-30 years including both blacks and whites of varied educational levels. Prevalence of smoking was approximately 30% in each race by gender subgroup after adjusting for age and education. The prevalence decreased with increasing education, from 54% among participants with less than a high school education to 12% among those with graduate degrees (P less than 0.001). Cessation rates followed a similar pattern, with former smokers twice as common among those with more education. Differences in smoking prevalence across occupational groups were largely explained by differences in educational achievement. More educated individuals smoked fewer cigarettes per day and chose brands with lower nicotine yield. Race and gender were not strongly related to smoking prevalence. However, among smokers, whites reported smoking 50% more cigarettes per day than blacks but the average nicotine and tar content of the cigarette was nearly three times higher among blacks than whites. The strong inverse relationship between education and cigarette smoking patterns has important implications for public health efforts directed at the prevention of cigarette smoking.