Aims To determine the effectiveness of smoking cessation services in enabling smokers living in disadvantaged areas to access treatment services, and to assess the extent of variations between areas. Design Observational study of administrative information linked with survey data. Setting A representative sample of 19 of the 95 English health areas in 2001. Measurements All England smoking data by deprivation category obtained from the Health Survey of England were used to estimate neighbourhood smoking prevalence rates. Area of residence data from smokers setting a quit date were used to calculate the proportion of smokers in receipt of treatment services in different economic deprivation categories. Findings In general, treatment services were seeing smokers from the most disadvantaged areas where smoking prevalence rates were highest; 3 2.3% of all smokers in receipt of treatment services lived in the most disadvantaged quintile of areas compared with 9.6% resident in the most advantaged quintile. An indicator of 'positive discrimination' was calculated for each health authority area to quantify the extent to which the proportion of disadvantaged smokers being treated was greater than the proportion in the local population. This figure ranged from just under 0% to 18%. Conclusions National Health Service (NHS) smoking cessation services have been successful in reaching smokers from disadvantaged communities. If improved access to support for smokers living in the poorest communities can be extended, sustained and translated into long-term quitting then smoking cessation services have the potential to make a useful contribution to addressing inequalities in health.