Background: The aim of this study was to identify population groups which are the most crucial as targets for anti-tobacco action. Methods: A comparison was made of the prevalence and patterns of smoking and passive smoking in Estonia, Finland and Lithuania. Results: Total exposure to smoking, both one's own and passive smoking, was more common in two Baltic countries than in Finland. In these Baltic countries passive smoking was notably common among women. In all countries the exposure was more prevalent among the younger and less educated, but no difference emerged between urban and rural areas. Conclusions: The following target groups were identified as priorities for anti-tobacco actions: i) men of all ages in Estonia and Lithuania to stop their already established tobacco use, ii) young women in all three countries to prevent their starting a career of tobacco use and ill) young and less educated women in Estonia and Lithuania to prevent passive smoking, i.e. their exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.