BACKGROUND: Tobacco is a leading cause of avoidable death in the Baltic Republics but there is, as yet, relatively little information in the public domain on who is smoking and how this is changing. This information is important for those seeking to develop effective policies to tackle this issue. OBJECTIVE: To determine the pattern of smoking in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. METHODS: Analysis of data on patterns of tobacco consumption from representative surveys of approximately 3000 adults aged under 65 in each country undertaken in 1997. RESULTS: The prevalence of smoking among men is 53.9%, 56.0%, and 53.2% respectively in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The corresponding figures for women are 24.1%, 10.9%, and 7.6%. For both sexes, current smoking rates are consistently lowest in the age group 50 to 64 and highest in the age group 35 to 49. Education and income are determinants of smoking rates among men but much less so among women. Russian men are more likely to smoke than are men from the majority group in each country. Smoking rates among women are much lower in rural than in urban areas of Latvia and Lithuania but this is not so in Estonia. CONCLUSIONS: Smoking rates among men in the Baltic Republics are already very high. Among women, they still vary considerably. Each country has implemented some measures to reduce smoking. These seem to have been especially effective in Lithuania but, overall, much more action is needed.