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Available online 21 January 2013 Publication year: 2013Source:Social Science & Medicine The existing literature on educational inequalities in adult smoking has focused extensively on differences in current smoking and quitting, rather than on differences in never smoking regularly (initiation) by education in the adult population. Knowing the relative contribution of initiation versus quitting is critical for understanding the mechanisms that produce educational gradients in smoking because initiation and quitting occur at different points in the life course. Using data from 31 waves of the National Health Interview Survey (N=587,174), the analyses show the relative likelihood of being a never versus former smoker by education, sex, and age from 1966 to 2010 and for birth cohorts from 1920 to 1979. The analyses also describe differences in the cumulative probability of quitting over the life course, and the role of initiation versus quitting in producing educational gaps in smoking. The results show that educational gaps in never smoking explain the bulk of the educational inequality in adult smoking.