The American Society of Clinical Oncology and the National Cancer Institute convened a symposium in June 1996 on tobacco addiction. Additional support for the symposium was provided by the American Medical Women's Association and the American Society of Preventive Oncology. The goals of this conference were to describe the burden and public health consequences of tobacco addiction, to describe the state of science for the treatment of nicotine dependence, and to explore new strategies to increase quit rates and to prevent the uptake of tobacco use. This article summarizes and integrates the meeting presentations on tobacco addiction and includes the topics of smoking prevalence; psychobiologic aspects of nicotine dependence; and implications for disease, treatment, and prevention. Comments on regulatory approaches and national strategies for reducing dependence are also summarized in presentations by Dr. David Kessler, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, and Dr. C. Everett Koop, former U.S. Surgeon General.