We estimate the magnitude of genetic and shared environmental contributions to risk of initiation and maintenance of smoking. Genetic models were fitted to data from 2,204 male-male monozygotic and 1,793 male-male dizygotic twin pairs from the Vietnam Era Twin Registry who responded to smoking questions on a 1987 mail and telephone survey. The best fitting model allowed for both genetic and shared environmental effects on smoking initiation, accounting for 50% and 30% of the variance in risk, but allowed for only genetic effects, (accounting for 70% of the variance in risk), on persistence in smoking among those who had become regular smokers. This finding of a major genetic influence on smoking persistence confirms similar results from studies in Scandinavia and Australia. The role of heritable traits such as nicotine sensitivity should be addressed in smoking prevention and cessation efforts.