The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has been at the vanguard of funding tobacco control research for decades with major efforts such as the Community Intervention Trial for Smoking Cessation (COMMIT) in 1988 and the American Stop Smoking Intervention Study (ASSIST) in 1991, followed by the Tobacco Research Initiative for State and Community Interventions in 1999. Most recently, in 2011, the NCI launched the State and Community Tobacco Control (SCTC) Research Initiative to address gaps in secondhand smoke policies, tax and pricing policies, mass media countermeasures, community and social norms and tobacco marketing. The initiative supported large scale research projects and time-sensitive ancillary pilot studies in response to expressed needs of state and community partners. This special issue of Tobacco Control showcases exciting findings from the SCTC. In this introductory article, we provide a brief account of NCI's historical commitment to promoting research to inform tobacco control policy.