The paper reviews trends in tobacco use among women in the European Community (EC) between 1950 and 1990. The data suggest that EC countries occupy different points on what appears to be a common prevalence curve. Southern EC countries are represented in the early phases of this curve, marked out by sharply rising prevalence. In northern EC countries, female smoking prevalence appears to have peaked. Across the EC, the commodification of tobacco use, and the production and promotion of manufactured cigarettes in particular, underlies this prevalence curve. Young women in higher socio-economic groups have led the way into cigarette smoking in both northern and southern Europe, with smoking prevalence declining first among women who are privileged in terms of their education, occupation and income. Because the decline in prevalence has yet to be repeated among women in more disadvantaged circumstances, cigarette smoking among women in the EC is likely to become a habit increasingly linked to low socio-economic status.