BACKGROUND: The prevalence of current cigarette smoking is the net result of different processes over the entire life course, namely initiation, continuation and cessation of smoking. This study examined the association of socioeconomic indicators with initiating and quitting smoking among South Korean men. METHODS: We analyzed a total of 2,798 men aged 25-64 who participated in the Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2005. Odds ratios (ORs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for smoking initiation and cessation according to socioeconomic position indicators were calculated with logistic regression. Socioeconomic position was measured by education, occupation, income and marital status. RESULTS: Greater rates of ever initiation of smoking were observed among lower educated men (OR = 1.51; 95% CI = 1.09-2.09) after controlling for other socioeconomic factors. Independent associations were found among men who performed manual labor (OR = 1.55; 95% CI = 1.12-2.14). After simultaneous adjustment for socioeconomic factors, lower likelihood of quitting smoking was detected among men who were in the middle third and the lower third income group (OR = 0.72; 95% CI = 0.55-0.92, OR = 0.60; 95% CI = 0.46-0.79, respectively), who performed manual labor (OR = 0.66; 95% CI = 0.50-0.86) or who were not married (OR for never-married = 0.65; 95% CI = 0.42-0.99 and OR for divorced or widowed = 0.56; 95% CI = 0.36-0.87, respectively). CONCLUSION: For Korean men, educational attainment was a strong predictor of ever initiating smoking, however, smoking cessation was independently related to income and marital status. To be effective, tobacco control interventions should consider these different social determinants in initiating and quitting smoking.