BACKGROUND: This paper describes one outcome of a randomized controlled trial of community action for cancer prevention, Cancer Action in Rural Towns. The aims are to  explore the effectiveness of community action in decreasing adolescent smoking in rural Australian towns; and  describe the relationship between adolescent smoking rates and demographic variables. METHODS: In 1992, 20 rural Australian towns were selected. Community action involved formation of community committees and utilization of access-point networks to initiate and maintain intervention strategies. Cross-sectional surveys of smoking behaviors for all Year 9 and Year 10 students (13-16 years) in each town were conducted pre- and posttest. The main outcome measure was self-reported smoking in the past 4 weeks. SUDAAN software was used to look at differences between treatment. RESULTS: The results showed strong secular trends toward increased adolescent smoking, regardless of treatment group, particularly for females. There was no significant intervention effect. CONCLUSIONS: Increasing adolescent smoking rates found in this and other studies highlight that the definitive strategy to stem the adolescent smoking epidemic has not been found. Hope may remain for recent legislative strategies, but rigorous evaluation is essential, and compliance with legislation should be carefully monitored.