Purpose - Despite widespread anti-smoking campaigns, prevalence and the consequent damage to the community remains high and are therefore of concern to health educators. Several studies have identified a clear socio-economic status gradient in smoking prevalence. One purpose of this paper is to re-examine this gradient to assist in the more accurate targeting of anti-smoking campaigns. Another purpose of this paper is to examine the financial cost of smoking from a household perspective and also to compare survey data with data compiled by other means to test whether smokers are accurately reporting their smoking behaviour. This can assist in the refining of anti-smoking message strategies. Design/methodology/approach - Data from a large-scale survey of Australian households - the Household Expenditure Survey - was analysed and compared with data from other sources to examine demographic correlates and self-reported estimates of smoking behaviour. Findings - Approximately one third of households reported expenditure on tobacco. Expenditure is more prevalent among households with a female head and among lower status occupations. Young people are continuing to take up smoking. Smoking households appear to underestimate their expenditure on tobacco by more than 40 percent. Research limitations/ implications - Data are drawn from households, not individuals; therefore exact estimations of smoking prevalence and individual smoking behaviour are not possible. Originality/value - The findings provide important guidance for health educators developing anti-smoking campaigns. The findings provide assistance in the development of targeting and message strategy guidelines.