National trends in smoking prevalence by educational category from 1974 through 1985 show that education has replaced gender as the major sociodemographic predictor of smoking status. Smoking prevalence has declined across all educational groups but the decline has occurred five times faster among the higher educated compared with the less educated. From 1974 to 1985, smoking prevalence among persons with less than a high school diploma declined to 34.2% (0.19 percentage points per year) whereas prevalence for persons with four years or more of college education declined to 18.4% (0.91 percentage points per year). Smoking cessation activity increased across all educational groups, but the rate of increase among the higher educated was twice that of lower-educated groups. Initiation of smoking among more-educated men decreased rapidly to 15% in 1985 but leveled off by 1987. Until 1985, less-educated young females were the only group in which smoking initiation was increasing. However, in 1987 a sudden and large decline in initiation among less-educated females occurred. The apparent recent changes in initiation patterns by educational level suggest that the converging of smoking prevalence between the genders may not continue. The large and widening educational gap in smoking suggests that health promotion priorities need to be reassessed.