Background: In developed European countries in the last phase of the smoking epidemic, education is a stronger predictor of smoking than income or employment. We examine whether this also applies in economically less developed countries. Methods: Data from 7218 respondents in the 25-64 age group came from two National Health Interview Surveys conducted in 2000 and 2003 in Hungary. Independent effects of educational level, income and employment status were studied in relation to smoking prevalence, initiation and continuation for all age groups combined and separately for 25-34, 35-49 and 50-64 years old. Absolute levels were evaluated by using age-standardized prevalence rates. Relative differences were assessed by means of logistic regression. Results: Education and income, but not employment, were associated with equally large differences in smoking prevalence in Hungary in the 25-64 age group. Among men, smoking initiation was related to low educational level, whereas smoking continuation was related to low income. Among women, low education and low income were associated with both high initiation and high continuation rates. Considerable differences were found between the age groups. Inverse social gradients were generally strongest in the youngest age groups. However, smoking continuation among men had the strongest association with low income for the middle-aged group. Conclusions: Patterns of inequalities in smoking in Hungary can be best understood in relation to two processes: the smoking epidemic, and the additional effects of poverty. Equity orientated tobacco control measures should target the low educated to prevent their smoking initiation, and the poor to improve their cessation rates.
2011. Vol. 11, 97- p.