East Asia is one of the world's largest tobacco epidemic regions. Although several international studies have evaluated the status of tobacco control in this region, the findings have not been integrated with knowledge on domestic activities at the national and municipal levels. We analysed the current tobacco control situation in three East Asian countries, Japan, China and the Republic of Korea, using both international and domestic data sources. We collected data between 2008 and 2011 in each country according to the framework of WHO's MPOWER (Monitoring, Protect, Offer, Warn, Enforcement and Raise) approach for guiding implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Analysis revealed that 37–53% of adult men were current smokers and that smoking prevalence among middle-aged men reached 63%. Less than 20% of male smokers plan to quit and the use of nicotine replacement drugs was 14% at maximum. Forty-six percent or more of men and 20% or more of women were exposed to passive smoking at workplaces and at home, respectively. Many tobacco industry activities remain unrestricted and prevalent. Our findings indicate an urgent need for the following set of policies: raise cigarette prices to increase the quit attempt rate, particularly among adult men; develop a multi-component quitting assistance system to provide adequate assistance for smoking cessation; implement effective smoke-free policies in workplaces and public places to reduce exposure to passive smoking; and rebuild the administrative structure to denormalise tobacco industry activities. The importance of these standard approaches should be reaffirmed by all tobacco control policymakers in East Asia.