Behavioral risk factor (BRF) telephone surveys were conducted by 28 states and the District of Columbia from April 1981 through October 1983 to obtain baseline prevalence estimates for risk factors associated with the leading causes of death among adults. A supplemental survey was conducted to cover the remaining states (except Hawaii) in order to provide individual states with national-level data for comparison purposes. The complex sampling designs and variable sampling rates among state surveys required the computation of sample weights before estimates on a national level could be made. Estimates from the combined individual surveys are similar to those obtained from more expensive in-person interviews. The BRF national prevalence estimate of chronic heavier drinking is 8.7 percent, equivalent to the 1979 National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) estimate of 9 percent. The BRF estimate of 31.5 percent for current smokers compares closely with the 32.6 percent estimated by the 1980 Health Interview Survey. Despite recognized technical limitations, this type of telephone survey can be a practical and affordable source of information both for initially gathering prevalence data and for monitoring trends in the prevalence of behavioral risk factors of public health concern.