Smoking initiation is a key behaviour that determines the future health consequences of smoking in a society. There is a marked difference in smoking patterns around the world, driven by initiation rates. While a number of high-income countries have seen smoking prevalence decline markedly from peak, many low-income and middle-income countries appear to still be on an upward trend. Unlike cessation where changes are limited by nicotine dependence, rates of smoking initiation can change rapidly over a short time span. Interventions that can be effective in achieving this include increases in the price of tobacco products, mass media anti-smoking advertising, smoke-free policies, smoking curricula in schools, restrictions on marketing opportunities for the tobacco industry as well as social norms that lead to restrictions on adolescents' ability to purchase cigarettes. Comprehensive tobacco control programmes that aim to denormalise smoking behaviour in the community contain all of these interventions. Rapid reductions in smoking initiation in adolescents have been documented in two case studies of comprehensive tobacco control programmes in California and Australia. Consistent and inescapable messages from multiple sources appear to be key to success. However, the California experience indicates that the rapid decline in adolescent smoking will not continue if tobacco control expenditures and the relative price of cigarettes are reduced. These case studies provide strong additional evidence of the importance of countries implementing the provisions of the Framework Treaty on Tobacco Control.