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AIMS: Investigating the association between personality traits and smoking status using a comprehensive model of personality, the Five-Factor Model (FFM). DESIGN: Cross-sectional survey. Setting Baltimore, MD, USA. Participants Adult elderly Americans (n = 1638). MEASUREMENTS: A self-administered survey on cigarette smoking and the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R). FINDINGS: Current smokers scored higher than never smokers on neuroticism and lower on agreeableness and conscientiousness; former smokers scored intermediate on these higher-order dimensions. Neuroticism was related to smoking particularly among individuals with low conscientiousness, as indicated by an interaction effect between the two factors. There were no differences on extraversion and openness to experience. At the lower-order facet level, smokers were characterized by inability to resist cravings (high impulsiveness), search for stimulation (high excitement-seeking), lack of perseverance (low self-discipline) and lack of careful consideration of the consequences of their actions (low deliberation). CONCLUSIONS: At the higher-order factor level, this study replicates and extends previous studies using a comprehensive model of personality (FFM). The greater specificity provided by the facet-level analysis appears to explain some of the conflicting results in the literature, and the use of an older sample provides insight especially into the former smokers group. Personality research may lead to a deeper understanding of cigarette smoking and can potentially contribute to policies and programs of smoking prevention and cessation.